Burundi lifts ban on NGOs accused of anti-government activity

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Burundi has halted legal action against 11 non-governmental organizations that were banned due to accusations they conspired with opponents of President Pierre Nkurunziza, the prosecutor general’s office said on Saturday.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza bids farewell to his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma (not in the picture) as he departs at the airport after an Africa Union-sponsored dialogue in an attempt to end months of violence in the capital Bujumbura, February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana

Nkurunziza’s government has often accused civil society groups of working against it during a crisis that erupted last year over his disputed election for a third term. About 450 people have been killed in political violence.

“The Prosecutor General of the Republic informs the national and international community that he has terminated judicial proceedings against some civil society organizations,” Prosecutor General Sylvestre Nyandwi said in a statement.

It said the NGOs and non-profit groups had been suspended from operating in order to investigate “their share of responsibility in the insurgency movement launched in April 2015”.

The 11 organizations authorized to reopen include the Observatory for Government Action (OAG), which opposed Nkurunziza’s plan to seek another term in office on the grounds that the move was unconstitutional.

Opponents of the president said his re-election also violated a deal that ended a civil war in 2005.

The government, however, cites a ruling by the constitutional court saying the president could seek another term. It also dismisses allegations of human rights abuses.

Most of the groups’ leaders have fled the country fearing for their safety, and a representative of one of the entities told Reuters conditions remained difficult.

“It is hard to reopen and work as long as there are no acceptable conditions for us to fulfill our mission,” the representative said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The violence in Burundi has alarmed a region where memories of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda remain raw. Like Rwanda, Burundi has an ethnic Hutu majority and a Tutsi minority.

Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Helen Popper