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Burundi expels Human Rights Watch worker in crackdown on criticism ahead of elections

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The tiny east African nations of Rwanda and Burundi have both asked human rights researchers from a New York-based organization to leave their countries within weeks of each other, an official said Thursday.

Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch said the organization had been critical of both Rwanda's and Burundi's government.

"For the government to kick out a Human Rights Watch researcher suggests it is not comfortable being put under scrutiny," Brody said.

The Burundian government said in a statement Wednesday it had given researcher Neela Ghoshal until June 5 to leave the country. Burundi is due to hold its first round of elections after nearly 16 years of civil war on Friday. Presidential polls are scheduled for June 28.

Ghoshal had researched a report released by Human Rights Watch last week. It documented police inaction over political violence committed by several parties in the run-up to the elections. Government spokesman Philippe Nzobona Riba dismissed the report as "negative propaganda carried out by the opposition with the support of Human Rights Watch."

Ghoshal's expulsion is the second for the group within a month.

On March 10, neighboring Rwanda told Carina Tertsakian that her work permit had been revoked. On April 23, she was given 24 hours to leave the country.

Her expulsion is part of a "wider crackdown on opposition political parties, the independent press, and independent civil society," said Brody. "The Kagame regime is not allowing democratic institutions to form."

But Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for the presidency, said Tertsakian left because her visitors visa had run out.

"She failed to meet requirements for a work visa after immigration found several irregularities in her application including predated documents and mismatched signatures. We have invited Human Rights Watch management to Kigali to discuss the organization's work methods on Rwanda as well as the issue of their researcher," Makolo said.

Both Rwanda and Burundi have bloodstained histories, the result of politicians fomenting violence between Hutus and Tutsis to consolidate power. Burundi's civil war, between mainly Hutu rebels and a Tutsi-dominated army, is estimated to have claimed more than 250,000 people.

Hutu militias killed at least 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Rwanda's current president, Paul Kagame, ended the killing when he led a Tutsi-dominated force into the country. Critics say his rule since then has been authoritarian but Kagame argues strict measures are necessary to prevent a repeat of the violence.

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Associated Press Writer Aloys Niyoyita in Bujumbura, Burundi contributed to this report.