Story and photo by Eddy-Claude Nininahazwe
Forty Burundian civilians were killed in two separate attacks along a major national road in May and June, and the attacks have reawakened long-buried memories of the civil war era. The attacks were grisly, with the murderers ambushing their victims, then burning some people alive in their cars, while pursuing and then shooting others who escaped their cars. The Ministry of Public Security of Burundi has attributed the killings to marauding groups of armed robbers, and said investigations are underway. However, Burundians fear that the attacks are the work of rebel groups that might be gathering strength in the country.
The road in question is RN2, a national road linking three important cities – the current political capital of Gitega, the former royal capital of Muramvya, and the current economic capital of Bujumbura. Police announced through the ministry in charge of security that those attacking the civilians in May were gangsters, and had all been neutralized. The ministry confirmed to the media that they have 30 suspects in custody. The attack was followed in short order by arrests within the political opposition.
The second attack was also carried out on RN2. Vehicles were ambushed by armed men in military fatigues on June 2, according to witnesses who survived and who requested anonymity for their safety. Twenty people were killed.
“It was around 8 o’clock in the evening when we were on the road and in our [Toyota] Probox. I saw a hundred people in military uniform without hats in front of our car, and there was a truck that was on fire a short distance away. I and one passenger quickly got out of the car to run, but they opened fire on us, and we narrowly escaped. Our car was burnt along with the rest of the passengers.”
Arrests within the opposition worrying
More than 10 activists of the Congress for National Liberty (CNL) were arrested two nights after the second attack. Those arrested included key figures in the party. Kajeta Niyongere, ideological leader of the CNL party in Muramvya province, was said to have been arrested at his home and detained, as was Claver Kobako. According to locals, those arrested also included people with the given names of Jacques, Dieudonné, Olivier, Camille and Claude. All were taken to the capital of Muramvya province, according to sources within the National Congress for Freedom, their political group.
“They are being held in a secret place, and their families are worried,” one source said. Assisted by the Imbonerakure Youth from the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie – Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie, or CNDD-FDD) party, police also raided the homes of opposition party activists in Rutegama commune. According to witnesses, they found nothing suspicious. More arrests were made in Ndava district.
The Congress for National Liberty party (CNL) denounced the unfair arrests of its members by agents of the national intelligence in a communique signed by Térence Manirambona, on behalf of its president, Agathon Rwasa. The party asked the government to carry out meticulous investigations to find the real authors of these attacks and bring them to justice, instead of “head hunting.”
On June 30, the victims of the two ambushes were buried by their families on Kayogoro Hill in Muramvya province, in a private ceremony attended by Martin Ninteretse, permanent secretary at the Ministry of National Defense Forces, who represented the government of Burundi. He indicated that investigations are underway and reassured the public that war is not going to return to Burundi.