Burundi opposition leaders say the European Union will have blood on its hands unless it withdraws €8m of financial assistance it committed to support the African country's controversial upcoming elections.
Violence erupted as hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital Bujumbura since 26 April in opposition to president Pierre Nkurunziza's "unconstitutional" decision to seek a third term. At least 17 people have been killed and scores injured in the clashes between protesters and police forces.
"If these elections are forced to happen, there will be a civil war"
- Pancrace Cimpaye
"We believe the EU's €8m is a considerable sum. It is shocking that the EU is financing these elections which are killing people, forcing voters of the opposition to flee the country like refugees," Pancrace Cimpaye, spokesman for the Alliance for Democratic Change (ADC-IKIBIRI), one of the country's largest opposition parties, told IBTimes UK.
Members of the opposition allege that the government is behind extrajudicial killings and other acts of political violence, and are demanding the elections are cancelled.
"It would be unacceptable for the European taxpayer to agree that €8m, which can be used for something else, should be thrown in the trash like that. If these elections are forced to happen, there will be a civil war."
The EU's assistance is the main financial contribution to fund the Project to Support the 2015 Electoral Cycle in Burundi – dubbed PACE 2015 – which currently stands at €15m (£11m, $17m).
The budget, set out by EU Ambassador Patrick Spirlet and Burundi's minister of finance, planning and economic development Tabu Abdallah on 19 January this year, is managed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and is intended to oversee the electoral process carried out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).
Cimpaye, who fled to Belgium because of alleged political persecution, is calling on the EU to drop its assistance to the upcoming polls he claims are an "electoral charade to which the EU turns a blind eye".
"Radios have been closed, human rights activists have been imprisoned and these prisoners are refused food and care, are being tortured to the indifference of the international community. The violation of these values must be unacceptable for Europeans partners," Cimpaye said.
The ADC-IKIBIRI is calling for the EU to commit to a suspension of the funding and to demand that the government postpone the elections until a more favourable environment is re-established.
Suspended at any moment
When contacted by IBTimes UK, an EU spokesperson said European leaders believe that "genuine, credible and inclusive elections" where all parties are comfortable to participate and which respect civil liberties, political rights and freedom of expression, "should be part of the political solution to the crisis".
"In this respect, we take note of the public message of the President Nkurunziza and invite all parties to play a constructive role in finding a solution," Alexandre Polack, the European Commission spokesperson for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management & International Cooperation and Development said.
While he said the EU is committed to supporting such an electoral process with €8m, Polack revealed this support "can be suspended at any moment if the EU and other partners assess that it is impossible to achieve the aim of genuine, credible and inclusive elections".
Burundi opposition figure Cimpaye said the EU's "threat to suspend the funding of the elections is not enough".
"It must suspend its funding all together to soften the violence. The EU must not be an institution that is there to count the dead," Cimpaye added.
In April, the head of EU delegation to Burundi Patrick Spirlet revealed that out of the €8m that the EU had promised, 80% has already been disbursed.