In the footsteps of gunmen

Cankuzo through Ruyigi up to Bujumbura Rural Province … Cibitoke through Bubanza up to Makamba, people live in fear. They noted the passage of armed groups and young recruits. Some administrative confirm. Reporters from Iwacu tried to follow some tracks of these men.

By Dieudonnéé Hakizimana and Abbas Mbazumutima translated by Diane Uwimana

Muyira, as if the hatchet was unearthed



The turmoil of the past month of May , this small formerly bustling trading center of the Kanyosha town f seems regain his routine : the jolting minibus packed with clients and freight , overloaded motorbikes with two or three passengers, busy shops, stalls offering clothing with fluorescent colors …
And that is not all: on both sides of the road, interconnecting noisy bars where the smell of goat skewers emanates from braziers. With wooden tables, cold cassava dough packed in banana leaves. A freshly slaughtered goat is attached to a kind of crossbar. A cook stirs the coal.
Around 5 p.m., suddenly everything changes: the inhabitants of various localities of the area as Mponwa, Bangateri, Kwipera and Cinkona recently attacked by armed men hurry to return to their homes. “There isn’t any question to hang around in bistros or chat with friends while waiting for nightfall,” said one old street vendor in Bangateri.

Since this latest attack against a position held by police and military against Cinkona position, he recounts, friends from Isare, Kirombwe and Mukombe say there is presence of armed men in groups and hills are difficult to access. According to him, they shuttle between Nyabiraba, Isare and Kanyosha. “And with us when someone swears on his mother’s life is that he does not trifle. They tell the truth,” he cautions.

These gunmen not yet ransom population

“These people in remote hills tell us that it is difficult to distinguish between true security forces and the armed men. They do not ransom the population; it is not as time during the previous crisis that has left many scars,” says a resident of Kanombe. And pointing to the mountains above the high school of Kirombwe: “It is in these hills of Isare that these armed men are reported. But they do not stay there; they move at night and shuttle between several localities Isare, Kanyosha Nyabiraba and even Mukike communes.”

Even the police are aware of the presence of these armed groups; they do not spend whole days combing the villages and to hit the mountains for suspicious people.
A demobilized FNL member in Muyira said people are still afraid to return. They are between a rock and a hard place. “There is on one side the military and police and other side, armed groups. Joint security committees have been reactivated; there are records kept by the heads of hills to report anyone who is not around the corner. All this does not promise good things for us, after all what the people endured,” he says.

During the attack perpetrated at Muyira on 27th September, the gunmen came from Buzige, they went through Kabingo before rounding Kinuke, and they were reported to Kanombe before arriving at Muyira. But another group headed toward Rugoma. After their attack that killed one person, a policeman and two wounded, he said, these armed men vanished. “This attack came a day after a security meeting in Bangateri, activists of the ruling party and those of the FNL have not heard.”

When local elected officials diverge


Gédéon Mpitabavuma

In Coga after a meeting of the Joint Committee of Ssecurity, very active in recent days, Gideon Mpitabavuma, the head of Muyira zone, tried to stay calm. After the attack on 27 September, he said, the situation returned to normal, the police have control of the whole area. “For those armed groups that circulate at night, I don’t know. Even young people who took part in the demonstrations are there,” he tries to reassure.

This is not the opinion of another local elected official met at Bangateri. At Muyira, he says, the situation is worrying.
An older man, in his 60s, he said: “The black ashes of burnt tires in the middle of the tracks during the protests have disappeared. These vestiges of anger and protest were swept away by the runoff waters with recent rains, but there is something smouldering.”

During the demonstrations, he says, youths from Musaga, Jabe and even Nyakabiga and demobilized FNL sweeping down the mountains for reinforcement, have become friends, they became comrades in arms. “They erected barricades together, burned tires. They sang the same slogans together loudly, braving like true brothers in arms, tear gas, and real police ammunition, not to mention the risk of being on board at any time. And they are those who we didn’t see again here, » says this local administrator.

These demonstrators kept in touch. With current mobile phones, he points out; it is easy to exchange ideas, to set appointments, tasks to perform.
“There are facts that demonstrate that they remained united, ready to walk together,” says the elected hills.
As proof, he argues, in an attack perpetrated in Kiyenzi- Kanyosha Commune by armed gangs, among the deaths were two young people from Musaga.

Nyabiraba: The passage of gangs reported

The population of this town talks about movement of armed groups in the hills of Mayemba, Kinyami and Raro since August. The administrator of this Commune confirms.
According to Ferdinand Simbananiye, after the demonstrations, some young Nyabiraba residents became radicals; they took up arms. “There are messages sent to them to bring them back to reason but they hide.”
During the attack at Kiyenzi in Kanyosha Commune, he noted, there were among the attackers, « young people from our hills. »
Local administrative officials reported that night, there are movements of armed groups in our commune. “The population is worried; sometimes they flee when there are patrols of security forces.”

Departure of young people from Nyanza-lac

At first glance, the situation is calm. The people are going about their daily business. Nevertheless, a climate of confusion reigns among the inhabitants of Nyanza-Lac in Makamba Province. Testimonies collected on field indicate that young people are enrolled in a rebellion in the Nyarugusu refugee camp, located in Kasulu district in Tanzania.

The main crossing point according to some witnesses is Nyabigina hill in Kabonga zone. Most new recruits are unemployed, some young people affiliated to the ruling party and demobilized from the National Council of Defense and Democracy (CNDD: Nyangoma wing), especially who are unhappy. “The persons who agree to join received BIF 400,000, a sum that they leave to their family,” says a resident of Nyabigina. Our source believes that these recruits are mostly motivated by money.

Some Nyabigina residents are afraid to relive a period that they believed gone, when extortion of the public had become a sad reality. However, the population says they have not seen armed groups roaming the southern region of Burundi, at least for now.

Recruitments in other corner

Nyabigina Un point de passage des recruesIn other Makamba communes, they are the same complaints. “This is a worrying trend because youth from Mabanda, Makamba, Kibago communes and even Rumonge continue to go to Tanzania,” says a source who requested anonymity.
To support his statement, the same source gives the example of 18 young people arrested on 30th September in Nyanza-lac: “They were aboard a mini bus with pictures of several kinds of guns.” Towards the end of September, six Kalashnikov rifles, grenades and15 to 20 military uniforms were seized by police during a search and seizure operated in Nyagatanga Swahili neighbourhood- Nyanza-lac Commune.

A young man who often commutes to Tanzania says that the use of weapons began on a small scale in April when the cholera epidemic broke out in the refugee camps: “Some politicians have made travel in the camps and took the opportunity to create this rebellion.” Our source reveals the presence of three Burundian soldiers and a Police officer of the rank of General who are in Kagunga in Kigoma Rural.

This confused situation traumatized the population. The worries are motivated by the fact that supplies come from Burundi on motorcycles.
However, other sources in Makamba Province relativize “Tanzanians cannot tolerate the presence of armed men on their soil, unless the authorities support them”. This person thinks that these young people go to Tanzania to look for money: “The phenomenon of migration to Tanzania is very old and has nothing to do with the rebellion.”

Foiled infiltration

Although Gad Niyukuri, Makamba Governor, recognizes that security is good, some facts are disturbing. He says that 240 people were arrested in early September in Kibago and Mabanda communes.
After investigation, the Governor indicates that some of these people had come to earn money, but some had other reasons. “Other young people from all provinces except Cankuzo admitted to having done military training in Rwanda and were in possession of identity cards issued in each province.”
According to him, their goal was to infiltrate all the communes of Makamba and receive arms and ammunition.
Even worse, the plan of these young people was to wait for the signal to attack the whole country at the same time so that the security forces are fully destabilized.

For the moment, Gad Niyukuri says these young people have been turned in to the administrative authorities in their respective provinces. He says security was strengthened: “We have reactivated the Joint Committees for security and population registers.”
Niyukuri also mentioned that the reports produced by the members of these committees underlined groups of young people who travel to Tanzania: “Even on 1st October, we arrested young people from Bujumbura.” He reported that Burundian and Tanzanian authorities remain vigilant: “We are exchanging information with the administrator of Buhirwe Commune which is bordering our province.”