What is going on with with Burundian former journalist and opposition politician Alexis Sinduhije? Two weeks ago he was arrested in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on an extradition warrant issued by Burundi. He remained in jail in appalling conditions and all was quiet. On the surface it seems a straightforward case of a repressive government witch hunt against an opposition leader who fled into exile.
Sinduhije is the leader of the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) in Burundi, but he left the small central African country after general elections in 2010 when violence erupted as the opposition contested the results. He had been briefly jailed 2 years earlier accused of insulting the president. Burundi was devastated by a civil war between 1993 and 2006 that claimed around 300,000 lives. After a promising post-war start, a recent increase in violent incidents in the country has led to fears of renewed conflict.
A Human Rights Watch Report has stated: “Political opponents face surveillance, arrest, detention, torture, and even death. Civil society activists and journalists fear that simply carrying out their work may put them at risk of arrest or physical harm due to the government’s acute sensitivity to criticism of the security or justice sectors.”
Initially no-one could explain why Sinduhije was arrested until a Burundian government spokesman finally admitted they had an interpol warrant for him on charges of murdering the boss of the World Health Organisation’s Burundi Office Kassi Manlan, and his servant. A campaign was launched to support him in Tanzania but as is often the case with tiny Burundi, it didn’t get much press. Then suddenly Sinduhije was freed by the Tanzanian authorities with his lawyer, Bernard Maingain, claiming they had sprung him on a technicality. He flew to Uganda who seem to have ignored him and he is now reported to be safe in France.
Alexis Sinduhije has gained international recognition for his peace building and attempts to bridge Burundi’s ethnically oriented politics. He was recognised in the Time 100 lists as one of the most influential people in 2008. So it came as a bit of a surpise when the latest UN Security Council Group of Experts report into armed groups in the DR Congo named him as being:
“a particularly active supporter of FNL (National Liberation Front) combatants and (the) armed rebellion in Burundi” who operate out of the DR Congo.
“Four mid-level FNL officers told the Group that FNL combatants in South Kivu (in eastern DR Congo) considered Sinduhije to be one of their movement’s key leaders,” the report added, giving details of his extensive African and European travels in a bid to win financial and diplomatic support.
The FNL have been in regular peace-broker meetings with the Burundian government which could possibly account for the views of the four informants, but whether this is a stitch-up or not is anyone’s guess. Chrystelle Amigues, a spokesperson for the Alexis Sinduhije campaign said: “the report is not credibile, lacks coherence and is fantasy. If she’s right it will call into question the methodology of the UN’s eminent Group of Experts. Either way, the Burundian government say that for them the case is not closed.