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Ottawa warns Burundi after Quebec City speech downplays human rights abuses

The federal government is warning Burundian authorities against attempting to sow discord within the diaspora community in Canada.


Global Affairs Canada issued a sternly worded statement following a controversial event last week in Quebec City, at which a senior member of the current Burundian government spoke.

In an address at the conference, Willy Nyamitwe, a communications advisor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, said reports of human rights abuses by Nkurunziza supporters are overblown.

"I wanted the Canadian opinion to hear another part of the story about Burundi, because some news stories are really biased about Burundi," Nyamitwe told CBC News following his July 30 speech.

International observers have grown alarmed about an ongoing crackdown on opposition groups in Burundi. The United Nations and several rights groups have documented numerous cases of torture and extra-judicial killings in the East African country.

Quebec, and Quebec City especially, has a large Burundian expatriate community. Global Affairs Canada cautioned the Nkurunziza government about using the community as political leverage.

"Canada was not officially informed of which participants were to take part in the Quebec City meeting," Global Affairs said in a statement to CBC News.

"However, any attempt by Burundi authorities to move the debate to Canada would be a regrettable, useless and ill-timed distraction."

Controversial participants
Besides Nyamitwe, the meeting featured a number of other supporters of the Burundian government, including controversial Belgian activist Luc Michel, who in the past has been associated with far right political parties.

The meeting was dismissed as "government propaganda" by Richard Moncrieff, Central African Project Director with the International Crisis Group, a think tank that monitors violent conflicts.

"It’s fairly clear that it wasn’t meant to be a balanced perspective," Moncrieff said.

"The government at the moment doesn’t tolerate proper debate and difference of opinion. It just wants to have people echo back its own point of view at the moment."

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But those who attended the meeting said it was an important opportunity to share information that is often left out of media reports.

"Hutus didn’t invest in media when they came to power," said Marie Banyankindidagiye, an audience member who described herself as a Hutu.

"They need to have more of their voices heard in international media instead of all the lies."

Undermining cordial relations?
Relations within the Burundian diaspora in Canada are generally cordial in spite of political and ethnic differences, said Charles Makaza, who heads the Alliance des Burundais du Canada, a group aligned with the opposition.

"What we observe is two distinct groups: one that is pro-government, one that is anti-government," Makaza said.

"What they do is they separately organize events where the other side can come or not come, but I wouldn’t go as far a saying there is high tension."

But Makaza is also concerned that meetings like the one held in Quebec City could undermine relations between the two groups. He wants Ottawa to ban similar meetings from taking place in the future.

Jimirasire

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