At least 22 “armed criminals” and two police officers were killed in clashes between Burundi security forces and an unnamed armed group at the weekend, police said late Tuesday.
Police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said an armed group appeared in the hills of western Bujumbura-Rural province last week and engaged in several clashes with police.
On Sunday police “dismantled” the group “with a toll of 22 armed criminals… and two policemen killed, and six criminals arrested.”
On Monday a local official said 13 people had been killed.
Burundi’s main opposition party, the National Freedom Council (CNL), said it saw a link with the May 20 presidential elections.
The appearance of the armed group sparked a wave of arrests of 23 of its local leaders last week, the CNL said.
“We denounce this harassment orchestrated by the government ahead of the May 2020 elections,” party spokesman Therence Manirambona said on Saturday.
The fighting broke out 30 kilometres (18 miles) east of Bujumbura, the country’s economic capital, in a rural area with few roads, communications or electricity.
CNL leader Agathon Rwasa is considered the main challenger to the ruling CNDD-FDD’s Evariste Ndayishimiye in the May election.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, shocked the country by announcing he would not seek re-election after a constitutional change allowed him to do so.
His controversial election to a third term in 2015 plunged the country into crisis.
The violent aftermath of the last presidential election in 2015 made Burundi a focus of an investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged murder, rape, torture and disappearances.
Civil unrest killed 1,200 people and drove 400,000 from their homes.