Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Burundi: US Department of State Warns of Security Threats from al-Shabaab

The US Department of State warns its citizens of the risks of traveling to Burundi.  This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Burundi dated April 18, 2012, to reiterate existing security concerns and to note that security restrictions on travel for Embassy personnel remain in place.

Inasmuch as Burundi participates in peacekeeping operations in Somalia, the terrorist organization, al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target US interests in Burundi.

The Burundian civil war that lasted from 1993 to 2006 often involved non-governmental and non-combatant targets.  In December 2008, the government and the last rebel group signed their final cease-fire agreement in which the rebel group agreed to demobilize and register as a political party.  Burundi held general elections in 2010 which were generally considered credible.  Yet, political tensions ran high and there were incidents of violence during the campaign period.  Low-level political violence persists; the areas of Bujumbura Rural, Makamba, Rumonge, and the area neighboring the Kibira forest are of particular concern.

There are no known armed militia groups operating in Burundi; however, weapons are easy to obtain and some ex-combatants have turned to crime or political violence.  Crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits or street children, poses the highest risk for foreign visitors to both Bujumbura and Burundi in general.  Exchanges of gunfire and grenade attacks are common even in densely populated urban areas.   You should stay indoors, in a ground floor interior room, if gunfire or explosions occur nearby.  Common crimes include muggings, burglaries, and robberies.  Visitors should keep vehicle doors locked and windows up, and be careful when stopped in heavy traffic, due to the threat of robbery and theft.  The US Embassy has received reports of armed criminals ambushing vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura.  The US Embassy prohibits US government personnel from walking on the streets after dark and from using local public transportation at any time.  Due to a lack of resources, local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance during an emergency.

US citizens should be aware that even gatherings and demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn violent.  US citizens residing in or traveling to Burundi are reminded to maintain a high level of security awareness at all times and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind.  Even seemingly peaceful sporting events can become politicized and turn violent.  US citizens should routinely monitor local media sources and the internet for reports of demonstrations and unrest. 

The US Embassy continues to caution its citizens that travel outside the capital of Bujumbura presents significant risks, especially after nightfall.  The US Embassy restricts the travel of its personnel in Burundi.  Within 30 km/18 miles of the city, Embassy employees may travel in single vehicles, but are advised to check in and out with the Embassy.  The Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) must pre-approve all Embassy personnel travel outside this approximately 30-km radius of Bujumbura, and employees must travel via an approved itinerary in two-vehicle convoys equipped with satellite phones, GPS, and emergency equipment.  All employee movement outside the city after dark is forbidden; the Embassy recommends that US citizens not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn.  Citizens are also encouraged to avoid traveling within the city of Bujumbura after midnight.

Corruption is endemic in Burundi and contributes to an environment where the rule of law is not respected.  Government officials may ask for bribes for providing routine services.  Travelers are frequently stopped, questioned, and asked for bribes by security forces at numerous official and unofficial road blocks throughout the country.  Likewise, criminals who have paid off local officials may operate without fear of prosecution.