The massacre of 41
people in a bar near Bujumbura on 18 September was one of the most deadly
incidents in Burundi in recent years but it took place in a climate of constant
low-level violence and political instability.

Violent deaths are
reported on an almost daily basis in the central African country’s media yet
government promises of investigations rarely, if ever, lead to the prosecution
of perpetrators.

The bar shooting took
place in Gatumba, 13km west of the capital and close to the border with the
Democratic Republic of Congo. Witnesses said some of the attackers wore
military uniforms.

No evidence has
emerged to support suggestions that the attack was carried out by the Forces
nationales de liberation (FNL), a political party
and former rebel group
, which, according to a December 2010 UN report, was in the process of remobilizing in
eastern DRC.

Visiting Gatumba after
the massacre, President Pierre Nkurunziza said his security forces already knew
the names of some of the attackers.

“I give a month to the
police, the judiciary and the population to join their efforts and identify
those behind the killing, wherever they are, in Burundi or outside,” he said.

The government has
repeatedly dismissed the idea that the FNL presents a security threat, insisting
“bandits” are to blame for previous killings in the country.

A commission of
inquiry set up to investigate the deaths of dozens
of people found floating in the Ruzizi River
 last year has led
to no arrests so far. 

“We have had many
Gatumbas in this country,” said Pacifique Nininahazwe, chairman of Forum de
Renforcement de la Societé Civile, a grouping of civil society organizations.

Calling for
investigations into “killings that have targeted FNL supporters with the intent
to exterminate them”, he added that some 60 people across the country had been
killed in the month of May 2011 alone.

According to human
rights activist Claver Mbonimpa, that figure rose to 97 by the end of June.

“In some places bodies
are discovered and hastily buried without investigations into the circumstances
of their deaths,” said Emmanuel Ntakarutimana, who chairs the National
Independent Human Rights Commission.

He also called on the
government to “bring to trial the perpetrators of the Gatumba massacre and all
preceding crimes, whatever their origin, position, political membership”.

While the opposition
accuses the government and particularly its youth wing, Imbonerakure, and the
national intelligence services of arresting and killing opposition and
especially FNL supporters, the government, for its part, blames the opposition
for the climate of insecurity.

“Instead of accusing
one another, the government and opposition should sit together and find an
adequate framework for dialogue,” said François Bizimana, spokesman for the
Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD) opposition party. 

Rising tensions 

In a statement released on 20 September, Human Rights Watch
noted tension in Burundi had risen over recent weeks. 

“Whereas most of the victims of killings in previous months were
low-level rank-and-file members – or former members – of the FNL, those targeted
recently have included more prominent individuals. They include demobilized FNL
commander Audace Vianney Habonarugira, shot dead in July 2011; Dédithe
Niyirera, FNL representative in Kayanza province, killed in Kayanza in late
August 2011; and former FNL commander Edouard Ruvayanga, killed in Bujumbura on
September 5,” HRW said. 

“The political violence has been characterized by a pattern of
reprisals, with killings by one side typically followed by killings by the
other. In the majority of cases, the perpetrators have enjoyed complete
impunity,” the statement added. 

Source: IRIN Africa


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