KIGALI, Rwanda — Rebels opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza have united into a single movement and have declared war on the Burundian leader, a rebel commander told dpa international news agency on Wednesday.

The movement, known as The Republican Forces of Burundi, sees as its top priority the protection of people being killed “daily” for opposing Nkurunziza’s third term in office, said Col. Edouard Nshimirimana.

“Then, we will fight until Nkurunziza is removed from power,” said Nshimirimana, who defected from the country’s military in September.

The new movement’s main objective is to restore the rule of law through guarding the spirit of the Arusha peace accords that brought an end to a civil war in Burundi that began in 1993 and ended in 2005, he said.

The war, which left approximately 300,000 people dead in the impoverished east African country, pitted the majority Hutu ethnic group against the minority Tutsi, echoing the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in neighboring Rwanda.

The Arusha agreements introduced power-sharing quotas in the main political institutions and security forces, with the aim of protecting the minority Tutsis by giving them a disproportionately large share of power.

They also limit presidents to two terms and stipulate that the army should no longer play a political role but should instead unite Hutus and Tutsis.

Soldiers of the former regime, the Armed Forces of Burundi, are predominantly Tutsi, while militiamen of the majority Hutu armed groups, led by Nkurnziza, fought the previous regimes.

“We are on the ground and more attacks against the government will be common,” Nshimirimana said, adding that all the anti-government fighting groups have come together.

At least 87 people were killed in Burundi earlier in December after insurgents attacked military barracks in Bujumbura and in Mujejuru in the Bujumbura Rural province.

The attacks were carried out by The Republican Forces of Burundi, said Nshimirimana.

Military sources told dpa that many former soldiers from the Armed Forces of Burundi are likely to join the rebellion, raising fears of an ethnic war with the Hutu group.

“The army is divided and the situation is very bad,” said a military source who asked not to be named.

Nshimirimana, who was in charge of military transmissions and communications before he defected in September, trained in Israel and Mali.

He defected with Maj. Emmanuel Ndayikeza, a deputy commander of an elite military unit based in Bujumbura, and 40 junior soldiers.

The soldiers took weapons, ammunition and communications equipment when they defected, military sources said.

According to the United Nations, at least 400 people have been killed in Burundi and some 220,000 have fled as refugees to neighboring countries since April when Nkurunziza said he would run for a third term in office.

Nkurunziza went on to win a July election that was boycotted by opposition parities.

The ruling CNDD-FDD party is dominated by Hutus, who make up 85 percent of the 10 million population, while Tutsis constitute 14 percent.

Nkurunziza thwarted a coup attempt in May, for which 28 senior military and police officials are on trial.

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