Burundi: Tensions rise as Catholic Church accused of sponsoring terrorism

Burundi's government has accused the Catholic Church of sponsoring terrorism in the latest spat between supporters and opponents of the controversial President Pierre Nkurunziza.

President Pierre Nkurunziza justified his third term by saying his first, from 2005, did not count as he was appointed by Parliament and not elected.Reuters

The east African nation has been in turmoil since April 2015 when the country's first protestant President announced he would run for a third term. Catholic bishops in Burundi have opposed this move, saying it was illegal under the constitution.

Pascal Nyabenda, President of the National Assembly, said the Catholic Church had played a "purely political, not spiritual role" and added the government would not talk to "sponsors of terrorism".

However a source in Burundi told Christian Today: "The Catholic Church is very clearly not sponsoring terrorism.

"What happened is the Catholic Church has had a very consistent line that the President should not stand for a third term as it undeniably be against the constitution.

"They never advocated violence but they did advocate change. They have firmly stood by their line."

The source, who cannot be named for security reasons, went on to say protests against the President had been held, which were largely peaceful. However Nkurunziza was re-elected with 91 per cent of the vote, amid an opposition boycott.

The source said after the election in July, everyone who had supported any kind of demonstration was labelled an enemy of the state and a terrorist, including the Church.

The Catholic Church's longstanding opposition stands in contrast to the Protestant stance which the source described as "confused". As the country's first openly evangelical President, the Protestant church has been unsure how to react to his decision to run for a third term.

"There are certainly a lot of Protestants within the capital who want regime change but their pastors were not providing much guidance because they support the President.

"The protestant witness in the Burundi has been tarnished by this confusion," said the source. "Maybe there will be pay back in years to come." The source stressed this was their personal view and many Christians supported the President.

In the last year hundreds have been killed as protests spilled over into violence. More than 200,000 have fled the country and fears have grown that another ethnically charged conflict is brewing, less than ten years since 300,000 died in a devastating civil war.

However Christian Today's source said it completely incorrect to say a genocide, similar to that in 1990s Rwanda, was repeating itself.

"The reality is pretty grim for sure, but it totally not right to say an ethnic conflict is looming," he said, referring to articles in the Economist and Observer.