Burundi government says it kills at least 22 people in pre-election violence

Burundi's ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), party's, secretary general Evariste Ndayishimiye and his wife Angeline Ndayubaha attend the extraordinary congress after he was picked as their candidate for the next presidential election scheduled for May, in Gitega Province, Burundi, January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The Burundi government said on Tuesday it had killed at least 22 “wrongdoers” in the hills overlooking the main city Bujumbura since last week, in what it described as violence linked to a presidential election scheduled for May.

The authorities said two members of the police force were killed and six attackers were captured.

The clashes erupted after local residents called the police to alert them to the presence of about a dozen gunmen hiding in coffee plantations in Nyabiraba district, a local administrator told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Police said fighting also spread to the neighboring Isare district.

“Wrongdoers took advantage of this electoral period thinking people are distracted,” police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said on the state broadcaster RTNB. “The population should remain calm because security officers are ensuring its security.”

Burundi, which has a similar ethnic composition to neighboring Rwanda, has suffered from decades of ethnic and political violence, including a 1993-2005 civil war in which 300,000 people died, mostly civilians.

The election in May will choose a successor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader who has held power since 2005. His three terms in office have seen sporadic violence and international accusations of human rights abuses, which his government denies.

In the election, the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, a retired army general who heads the department of military affairs in the president’s office, will face a former rebel leader, Agathon Rwasa, of the opposition CNL party.

Editing by Peter Graff