Bujumbura Province :Identity of “attackers” remains mystery

22 out of 30 combatants were killed and 8 others captured. The police have not yet revealed the identity of this armed group which was reported in Bujumbura province since Wednesday, February 19, 2020. There are many questions over this attack and speculation is rife. In the aftermath of the attack, several activists of the National Congress for Freedom (CNL) were reportedly arrested.

The “combatants” who were allegedly executed in Nyabiraba commune

On Sunday February 23, impressive photos circulate on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter …: young people covered with blood tied up together.

It is a group of armed men captured in Nyabiraba commune. They are surrounded by many heavily armed soldiers and police. Many civilians are also present. Some have clubs. In some images, they are beating up these captured men. In one of the photos, a young man in civilian clothes is seen with a Kalashnikov. “I know him. His name is Juvenal. He is an Imbonerakure (member of the youth wing of the ruling party CNDD-FDD) from Nyabiraba,” says a resident of Nyabiraba commune.

Videos also circulate on social media. In one of them, someone says: “Aho harivyo kubabika, nibafyondere ngaha (No need to imprison them, eliminate them right now).
Shortly after, photos showing corpses littering the ground began to circulate. Some had deep head injuries. “It happened on Kinama hill in Nyabiraba commune. After they were captured, they were killed,” said a resident of Kinama hill. “It was a group of 14 young people. Some were killed with machetes, others were slaughtered. Some were shot dead,” said another local resident. “Two survived: A young man from Mubimbi commune and a teacher from Gatara High School in Kayanza province. We don’t know these people around,” adds another resident. According to sources in Kinama, the remains were buried last Monday by the population on Kinama hill. “Some had already been skinned by vultures.”

First “attack” in Kirombwe

At the same time, the administrator of this commune, Ferdinand Simbananiye, spoke of 12 armed men and a killed police officer. Some weapons were seized: 6 rifles, a pistol and a grenade. “We do not yet know who these armed men are, but investigations are under way to be able to identify them, especially since two men have been arrested.” He goes on to say : “Citizens chased after them and this group headed towards Musenyi before joining the locality of Kinama where they exchanged fire with elements of the police called to intervene and there some lives were lost. Gunshots began around 1 p.m.” The residents of Nyabiraba commune think that they are the survivors of clashes in Kirombwe…

Kirombwe, where clashes took place, is at the bottom of these hills.

The 14 alleged combatants killed on Kinama hill are according to Déo Bigirimana, the police commissioner in Bujumbura province, survivors of an armed group reported on Wednesday, February 19, in the hills overlooking Bujumbura city. The latter had exchanged fire with elements of the police and the army, especially on Kirombwe hill in Muyira area in Kanyosha commune.

Residents of Kirombwe who say they saw these alleged combatants speak of around thirty young men dressed in civilian clothes, with bibles in their hands and carrying several pieces of luggage. They sometimes claimed to belong to Rémy Gahutu, sometimes to Agathon Rwasa. Obviously, they were passing from Isare commune.

According to these eyewitnesses, this group which nevertheless had military effects said that it had no intention of harming. It only intended to call to order the CNDD-FDD government through the word of God. At the level of Kirombwe hill, these men even met two police officers. “Rest assured, we do not want to disturb public order,” they would have told them before continuing their way. Two Imbonerakure met at the center of Muyira zone indicate however that these unknown persons aimed at decimating the members of the youth wing of the ruling party CNDD-FDD.

According to Police Commissioner Bigirimana, the group then consisted of 30 men holding 14 rifles. “Clashes between the police and them resulted in 3 dead and 2 captured among the alleged rebels.” An old man from Kirombwe who was present in Muyira during the security meeting on Wednesday nevertheless believes that there were no clashes.
“We have to talk about fighting to justify the deaths. I doubt that these men fired. Beyond what they said, they obviously had no experience.”

The “rebel group” would then have disintegrated, continues the police officer, in the wake of the fighting. “It split into two. Some continued, others hid in the bush.” The latter were apprehended in turn, some with their rifles, through searches that were carried out in different places around Muyira.

This Sunday, February 23, there were only 14 “fighters” who exchanged fire with security forces in Nyabiraba commune. “The whole group was completely dismantled,” said Déo Bigirimana at the meeting.

Several arrests followed…

After the attack on Kirombwe, CNL party deplores a wave of arrests of their activists. “Local party officials who appear on the electoral lists were the targets. 23 Inyankamugayo (members of CNL party) were arrested in the communes of Isare and Mubimbi,” said Térence Manirambona, spokesperson for CNL party. The Inyankamugayo of Mubimbi commune report that the arrests were carried out by the police accompanied by Imbonerakure. According to them, the former were arrested without an arrest warrant, but for the others who followed, they were accused of “undermining the internal security of the state”.

“An Inyankamugayo called Félix Ndikuriyo died in the dungeon of the commune. He was beaten by the Imbonerakure when he was arrested at his home on Kiziba hill. The administration refused to hand over the bodies to the family. He was buried without the presence of his relatives. ” Iwacu tried to reach the administrator of Mubimbi commune, Léonidas Ntirandekura, without success.

Barely veiled allusions

Nadine Gacuti: “We have to be vigilant. Those who attacked may be hiding among us. It is not a new party.”

In a security meeting organized in Muyira area on Wednesday, February 26, the administrator of Kanyosha commune, Jean Berchmans Munzerere, spoke of a group of bandits. “Goats and pigs have been disappearing on the hills for some time. We think these are the same bandits.” For him, security is total in his commune.

“We do not know if they are bandits or rebels, but the police and all those who helped them did a good job,” said Nadine Gacuti, Governor of Bujumbura province. According to her, the enemies of the country are always on the lookout. “I know they are here in the hall, but I wanted to tell them that they will not get anywhere.” Nadine Gacuti warned those who helped these armed men. “What is surprising is that most of these men are from Bujumbura province. Some residents helped track them down, but others stood by idly. Whoever hides one or two of the survivors must report this immediately to the police.”

The chief adviser to the governor of Bujumbura province said: “The captured attackers denounced their accomplices. After this attack, an unhealthy climate settled in certain communes where it was said that people are being arrested because of their political affiliation. The police exploited the confessions of those who were arrested. I think that a criminal should be treated as such without mentioning their political affiliation.”

The governor tried to explain the idea of her senior adviser: “In the aftermath of the attacks, I received a message from the representative of CNL party in Bujumbura province asking me why we are arresting their members. I replied that it is the rebels who are being arrested. I asked him if these rebels are CNL activists. He said no. I would like us to have the same reading of the situation, because no other party representative called me.”

As for Didace Nzambimana, CNL party representative in this province, he said: “I was not talking about the people who were captured during the fighting. I was concerned about members of our party who were arrested in their households after the said attacks. We must not confuse things. Moreover, the administrator of Kanyosha commune had already said that it is a group of bandits. I would first like to thank a few administrators, because some of our activists from Mubimbi have been released.”

Nadine Gacuti does not give in. “Whoever wants to win the elections, may they go to explain their projects to the population. It could be that in 2015, one had a lot of sympathizers in the province but following the other teachings they received, they can go elsewhere. They cannot come back by force. Does one have to take up arms to get followers?” She asked a question: “Is this a new party or does it already exist?”
“It’s necessary to be vigilant. They may be hiding among us, spending time with us every day. It is not a new party. Continue the investigations, you will find that I am telling you the truth.”

Nadine Gacuti then asks questions to the audience: Do you know the person who wrote about me on social media. I forgot his name, who is it? Aimé Magera, respond some participants. Which political party is he from? Why don’t you say it? CNL, they claim in unison. “First, he said that I want to imprison Rwasa. Do I, as Gacuti, have the power to imprison Rwasa? Second, he wrote that it was I, in collusion with a minister and an MP, who sent this group to carry out this attack. If you have nothing to do, keep still. But don’t lie to people, because they have eyes to see and ears to hear. Magera has people who have mandated him. The proof is, they never disavowed it. “However, she reassures CNL officials. “In Bujumbura province, we will spare no effort to facilitate their task as we have always done. There are people who like to enjoy war. Whenever the elections approach, there is always unrest in Bujumbura province. We must put an end to this situation”.

Reacting to the security situation, Agathon Rwasa, president of CNL party, finds that it is not alarming, but that one can be worried by the actions of some groups of people who say they want to fight militarily. “What is unfortunate is that there are some administrative officials who want to attribute this barbarity to CNL party. We reaffirm once again that CNL is a political party. We have nothing to do with everything related to violence. ” According to him, since the party was approved, their leitmotif has always been restraint while avoiding violence. “It is deplorable that there are still attitudes of this kind. Sometimes we can understand because there are people who do not wish that democracy flourishes and who would like us to live in a situation of a de facto single party system when the law establishes a multiparty system.” For him, it is necessary that all Burundians stand up as one man to discourage all these people who have warlike inclinations”.

Who are these armed men?

It is still difficult to identify this armed group for the time being. The various testimonies collected by Iwacu remain confused.

Agathon Rwasa: “What is unfortunate is that there are some administrative officials who make amalgam and want to attribute this barbarity to CNL party.”

According to residents of Muyira, these “combatants” were blocked in Kirombwe when they came from the direction of Isare commune. The Governor of Bujumbura province even said that they would have stayed in Isare for a good week.

The opinions of the inhabitants of this commune seem to invalidate these remarks. “We learned of the existence of this group on this day of ‘clashes’. And it seems that among those who have been arrested or killed, no one is a native of our commune.” Those who say that they tried to find the identity of the members of the said group claim to have encountered an obstacle: “In the streets of Isare, rumor had it that there was a group of the Imbonerakure who were allegedly used for a fabrication ultimately aimed at the suspension of the CNL and / or the arrest of CNL activists. But after some members of the arrested group were killed, we thought that this information did not hold totally.”

In all cases, the various participants in Wednesday’s security meetings agree on one observation: “This group was made up exclusively of the natives of the province of Bujumbura”. Nadine Gacuti said that most of the recruitments took place in Mubimbi commune…
Recruits in Mubimbi? Yes.

It is 1 p.m. at Mubimbi trading center, not far from the National Road1. It’s drizzling. On the balcony of a bar, there is a group of five men around a man who grills kebab. The conversation is good-natured. They speak of departures for a rebellion.
“Most of them are only 18 year-old,” said one of them, seeping on beer. “I think these kids are a little crazy. How can they pretend to fight us, who have spent years and years in the bush?” replies a man with a clear complexion. He was wearing a jacket. “They are promised that they will receive money,” tries to explain another person.

Others say they disagree with this argument. They give the example of a young man from the locality who left when there was nothing missing in his family. “There is surely a politician who is manipulating them.”

According to them, those who “join this rebellion” leave with the construction equipment as if they are going to a construction site. They would then leave for Congo where they would receive military training. Is that the proof? “Those who were shot or arrested had Congolese money in their pockets.”

These hunted “young combatants ” would have taken the path to “a rebel movement” two weeks ago, say these men of Mubimbi before adding that they had no fighting experience: “When they return, they had rifles with only 20 rounds each. Those who were arrested had no bullets remaining.”

“Rebels from the DRC …”

Déo Bigirimana: “If another person gets caught tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, do not be surprised.”

According to Déo Bigirimana, the provincial police commissioner in Bujumbura, this armed group came from the DR Congo in two groups. Twelve entered through the Rukoko natural reserve, twelve others via Rumonge in the south of Burundi. Those who arrived by Rumonge would have only reached Nkona hill in Isare commune at 10.

On the other side, the twelve who had passed by Rukoko would have met another group of 8 other men at the level of Gihanga commune in Bubanza province. They joined the others in Nkona to make a group of 30 men. When they arrived, the latter had only six rifles. This police officer who says he got the information from the arrested combatants adds that the one who was piloting the group was the director of a boarding school at Maranantha Basic School in Kivoga, called Jean Bosco Minani…

Arrests in prospect

Information gathered by Iwacu in Kivoga reveals that Jean Bosco Minani had recently disappeared from the school. Others say he had been on work leave for almost two weeks. Working on behalf of a political party? Different sources say they are unable to provide any information regarding this matter.

A young man from Maranatha, the Kivoga high school, tries to explain the political journey of Jean Bosco Minani. He talks about him in the past. He had been a fighter in FNL-Palipehutu rebel movement. At the end of the war, he would have joined FRODEBU Nyakuri party. “I know him in 2014-2015 as a member of this party.” According to him, the late Minani was no longer active in any political party…

In Nkona locality, says police commissioner Déo Bigirimana, the group benefited from an armament of 8 rifles from a pastor, to complete the 6 bought in Congo. This pastor allegedly bought them in Kamesa locality of Kanyosha commune before moving them, in sacks of cassava flour, by a Probox-type car to Rushubi where they were to be unloaded.

Mr. Bigirimana said that of the 14 rifles, 12 were seized. And all those who participated in moving these weapons were arrested. He adds: “If there is another one who gets caught tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, do not be surprised because it is the captives who denounce them.” He asks anyone who hears him to stop sharing photos and/or videos on social media. “They tarnish the image of these young people who are doing their work.”

Story written by Fabrice Manirakiza and Edouard Nkurunziza

and translated into English by Pierre Emmanuel Ngendakumana