US warns against Burundi travel amid Shebab threat

US warns against Burundi travel amid Shebab threat
A handout image made available by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) on October 6, 2014. Somali troops backed by African peacekeepers recaptured the last major port in Somalia held by the al-Shebab, Al-Qaeda's main affiliate in Africa, removing a key source of revenue for the Islamist militia, officials told AFP.

WASHINGTON - The United States on Thursday issued a stark travel warning for Burundi after threats by al-Shebab militants and imposed a de facto night-time curfew on US government staff in the country.

The State Department warned all American citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the small, impoverished country, nestled in Africa's Great Lakes region.

"The terrorist organisation al-Shebab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi," the travel warning said.

"It may also target US interests in Burundi."

The State Department banned all US government personnel "from walking on the streets after dark and from using local public transportation at any time."

Armed groups are rife, and "crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits or street children, poses the highest risk for foreign visitors to both Bujumbura and Burundi in general."

Demonstrations should be avoided, as they can quickly turn violent, and when driving around town, windows and doors should be locked, the notice said.

The State Department also warned against travelling outside the capital, Bujumbura, saying it "presents significant risks, especially after nightfall."

US embassy staff are also banned from leaving the capital between 6:00 pm and 7:00 am.

"Likewise, US citizens should not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn. Armed criminals ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura," it cautioned.

Burundi emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war, but its political climate remains fractious ahead of presidential polls in eight months' time.

It has been one of the main contributors to an African Union-led force in Somalia aimed at pushing out the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab.

In September three elderly Italian nuns were raped and murdered in their convent in Bujumbura.

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