Till now, ethnic polarisation has been avoided. Protesters have come from both sides of the divide. The coup leader, General Godefroid Niyombare, is a Hutu, while Nkurunziza, of mix parentage, led a Hutu rebel force in the war.
But General Ngendakumana, another Hutu who fought under Nkurunziza and later became a top intelligence officer before he was fired in February, accused the president of stoking ethnic divisions.
In particular, he said the ruling party’s youth wing Imbonerakure, widely seen as a Hutu force, had been armed. “This situation can lead to a genocide,” he said in an interview.
The ruling CNDD-FDD party denies this, accusing opponents of provoking violence because they cannot win at the ballot box.
Yet reports of threats by Imbonerakure, often cited by those fleeing Burundi, have alarmed Western powers. One diplomat has called it the “scariest” element of the crisis.
Chastened by their failure to halt the Rwandan genocide, the United States and European Union have threatened sanctions on individuals behind Burundi’s violence and have cut some aid to a nation that depends on donors to fund about half its budget.
Yet diplomats say they are struggling to find pressure points to change the government’s course.