Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


When rebel activity diminished in some parts of Burundi in 1999, authorities permitted some guardians to end their service. But when FNL rebels attacked in force near the capital, Bujumbura, in September and October 2000, military authorities brought hundreds of Guardians of the Peace from the south to reinforce regular troops. Promised substantial rewards if they drove the rebels from Gitenga in Kabezi commune, the guardians suffered heavy losses against the battle-hardened rebel combatants.64

In a more serious attack on the capital in February 2001, the rebels took and briefly held the zone of Kinama. Increased numbers of rebels who had been based in the Congo were returning to Burundi at this time, apparently at least partly in reaction to an anticipated loss of support from the government of the Congo. The new Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, installed in January 2001 was under considerable international pressure to end aid to the Burundian rebels, his allies in the war against the Congolese Rally for Democracy and Rwanda. Rebels based in or near camps for Burundian refugees in Tanzania also stepped up incursions across the border, underscoring a new intensity to the war.

In reaction to this renewed military challenge from the rebel movements, Burundian authorities began to expand the Guardians of the Peace program in March and April 2001. They organized training programs in virtually the whole country, including parts of Rutana, Ruyigi, Cankuzo, Muyinga, Kirundi, Karuzi, Mwaro, in some places using experienced guardians from the southern provinces to help mobilize young people. They subsequently expanded an existing program in Bujumbura-rural. The government has published no total for the numbers of guardians in Burundi, but in a letter of early September 2001, a Burundian major knowledgeable about the program wrote that some 30,000 Burundians had received military training as Guardians of the Peace.65 Information gathered locally indicates that there may be as many as 5,000 in the province of Bururi, another 1,000 in Makamba, and hundreds in each of the other provinces where groups were being organized in mid-2001.66

In some areas guardians received new assault rifles (fusil automatique léger, FAL) to replace the older Kalashnikovs they had been using and played an increasingly important role as surrogate soldiers. Deployed in larger numbers than regular troops and in advance of them, guardians sustained high casualties in combat, with dozens killed in just in the two months of June and July 2001.67 Authorities who in the past minimized the role of the guardians, especially in combat, increasingly recognized the significance of their contribution.68 As one high-ranking military officer said speaking of the guardians, "They have already killed a lot of rebels. They do a good job."69 At a public meeting in Bubanza in early September 2001, President Buyoya congratulated the Guardians of the Peace for their success against the rebels.70

The rebel movements responded to the growing importance of the guardians by launching a campaign of intimidation against them. In Kabezi commune, Bujumbura-rural province the FNL has reportedly targeted men who were training as guardians. On June 26, 2001 four men were shot to death during the night, Pierre Minani; sons of Coga, named Paul and Kabwana; and Nyamuda, son of Nsengiyumva. The assailants, said to have been FNL combatants, dumped the bodies on a main road near the river Karonke, supposedly to serve as a public warning to other guardians. According to some local residents, at least some recruits refused to attend further training sessions after the murders.71 In areas further south where the FDD was strong, they circulated tracts in June and July threatening guardians and their families. In one tract signed by Anicet Ruyego as the "commandant" of Bururi region, the FDD warned that it was going to increase attacks against the guardians and that it would catch and kill them. It also forbade families of guardians to cultivate their fields and asked others in the community to cut all ties with those who served as guardians.72

In at least one area, military authorities warned guardians that not only they but also their families would suffer punishment, possibly even execution, if they deserted their posts.73 A small number of guardians fled nonetheless to join the rebels: several from the communes of Giharo and Bukemba in Rutana reportedly crossed to Tanzania and seventeen others from Rumonge commune joined FDD ranks. Others handed over ammunition to rebels, either in return for cash or for assurances of safety should they encounter rebels in the future. Others, saying they feared the growing risk of death in combat, moved to other parts of the country where they took refuge with family or friends.74

64 Human Rights Watch interviews, June and July, 2001.

65 Letter read by Human Rights Watch researchers, September 27, 2001.

66 Human Rights Watch interviews, June and July, 2001.

67 Human Rights Watch interviews, June and July, 2001.

68 Agence Burundaise de Presse, Informations, No. 1282, May 31, 2001; No 1284, June 2, 2001; and no. 1313, June 21, 2001.

69 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 15, 2001.

70 Agence Burundaise de Presse, Informations, no. 1429, September 7, 2001.

71 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, July 27, 2001.

72 Tract on file at Human Rights Watch.

73 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 2000.

74 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, September 29, October 4 and 7, 2000; June, July, and August 2001.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page