Neither the FNL nor the FDD have participated in the official peace negotiations, in part because of objections by the two opposition groups from which they originated. The Palipehutu, of which the FNL was originally a part, has been represented at Arusha, as has the CNDD, the group which gave rise to the CNDD-FDD. Both insisted on excluding the offshoot military groups which they saw as rivals. The original mediator, former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, had agreed to exclude the FNL and the FDD, but Mandela has insisted that they be included. Now the most powerful armed opposition groups in Burundi, they increased their military activity in late 1999 and in early 2000 to demonstrate their importance and to assure themselves a role in the peace talks.
The struggle for power in Burundi is not simply that of Hutu against Tutsi; there are also conflicts among parties of the same ethnic group. The largely Hutu FNL ousted its rival the FDD, also largely Hutu, from northeastern Burundi in combat in late 1997 and early 1998 and now poses the chief threat to authorities in the capital of Bujumbura and its immediate area. In September 1999, Burundian authorities abruptly ordered some 350,000 residents of the province of Bujumbura-rurale to move into regroupment sites, purportedly to reduce Hutu support for the FNL and slow its advance on the capital. They acted also to quiet growing restiveness among extremist Tutsi who were accusing Buyoya's government of inaction before the insurgent threat. The FNL have continued to attack soldiers in the posts scattered around the outskirts of the city as well as civilians in Bujumbura and the surrounding area.
On January 4, FNL combatants ambushed a minibus near Nyamugari and killed all the passengers. Others ambushed a vehicle transporting three workers of an international humanitarian agency, who were returning from work in the south of Bujumbura-rurale on January 19. The insurgents blocked the road with a tree about halfway between Magara and Kabezi communes, some twelve miles from Bujumbura. When the vehicle slowed before the obstacle, a man dressed in military clothes waved his hand for the driver to stop. The man then raised an automatic weapon and fired directly at them. Almost instantaneously, a group of about twenty insurgents appeared out of the bush, formed a semi-circle around the vehicle and opened fire from all sides. Crouching low in his seat, the driver put the vehicle into reverse and sped to safety.2
On February 18, some one hundred rebels moved into the densely populated regroupment camp at Kabezi shortly after 1 p.m. They were identified as FNL fighters by a blue and yellow insignia which they wore on their left shoulders. From their position within the camp they began firing on the soldiers posted at the communal office a short distance away, on a hill lower than the camp. Other insurgents who had advanced closer to the office and who were hiding in banana groves also opened fire on the soldiers. This group sang the "Allelluia Song," which is reportedly frequently sung by FNL insurgents during their attacks.
Representatives of two humanitarian aid organizations were at Kabezi during the attack, their presence signaled by their clearly identified vehicles. One took shelter in the communal office with the soldiers. The other tried to leave the camp during a break in the fire. He was stopped by FNL fighters who demanded his identity papers. Insurgents often criticize humanitarian agencies for having a disproportionate number of Tutsi among their employees. Satisfied that the driver was a Tanzanian national, they allowed him to depart unharmed.
The soldiers returned the hostile fire, including that coming from the camp. Civilians, most of them Hutu, took shelter as soon as the shooting began, but two were killed, one probably by fire from the FNL, the other by the soldiers. Another civilian and one soldier were killed by FNL fire at the communal office and seven other soldiers were wounded.3
At the end of February, FNL insurgents attacked military posts at Sororezo and Mugoboka on the northern outskirts of Bujumbura. They made a brief foray into the Matanga section of the city itself, where they robbed some civilians and injured one.
In the East
In the eastern part of Burundi, the FDD, the dominant rebel group, began stepping up attacks on civilians at the end of last year, seeking to discourage Burundians who had previously fled to Tanzania from coming home. Many local residents who had only recently returned from exile were driven away once more. Others who had not fled before were also forced across the border into Tanzania. Small groups of FDD insurgents operated mostly in the eastern communes of Ruyigi province, an area of plains adjacent to the Tanzanian border which is populated almost exclusively by Hutu. They stole money, crops and other property from the population and burned homes and public property. When they encountered resistance from civilians, they sometimes killed them. They rarely engaged the military and they apparently intended to destabilize the region rather than to occupy it. In December and early January, FDD insurgents killed four civilians and burned at least 600 houses as well as two primary schools and one health center in Kinyinya commune. They burned other houses and looted one school and a health center in Nyabitsinda commune. In Gisuru commune, just before the New Year, they killed ten civilians and one soldier and burned fifty houses. They also kidnaped five civilians but later released them.4
During the weekend of January 8-9, 2000, insurgents, most likely of the FDD, attacked the commune of Butaganzwa which is located to the west of the chain of hills that divides Ruyigi province. They burned at least six houses and one primary school and attempted to burn the communal office. On the same weekend, the FDD struck once more in Gisuru commune, killing at least three civilians and burning thirty homes in Nyabitare. Unidentified assailants, apparently insurgents, attacked an employee of an international aid organization on Tuesday January 11 while he was driving his vehicle at noon in the commune of Kinyinya. He was shot in the abdomen but survived.5
Between January 8 and January 25, FDD insurgents attacked civilians in several locations in and around the parish of Muriza, province of Ruyigi. According to witnesses, they raped women and girls on at least one occasion. They burned houses and a school and stole a total of some fifty cattle in different places as well as many goats.6
At the end of January, FDD insurgents once again attacked civilians in Gisuru commune. They beat local residents who could not or would not give them money and food. They stole cattle and burned several houses. They forced five people to leave with them but later permitted them to return. On January 28, insurgents robbed the convent of religious sisters at Gisuru parish after having awakened the sisters on the pretext of someone needing medical assistance. They forced three sisters, two of them Burundian and one Italian, to accompany them on foot towards the border, along with two watchmen from the parish. After a number of hours, they permitted the sisters and one watchman to go home. They later released the other watchman after having beaten him because he had no money to give them.
The scare tactics have worked. According to spokesmen for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some 50,000 Burundians fled to Tanzania from October 1999 to early January 2000 and 24,000 more during January.
In the Interior
Insurgents also raided sporadically in provinces in the interior of Burundi. Both the FNL and the FDD have operated in this area and sometimes it is unclear which group was responsible for any given attack. On Thursday, January 13 at about 5 p.m., armed combatants said to have been FNL killed at least thirteen people in an ambush of a pickup truck in Muramvya province on the road between Bugarama and Muramvya town. Approximately ten minutes later, the same or another group of assailants killed all except three of the passengers of a minibus carrying passengers to Muramvya town. The victims included the administrator of Cendajuru commune, Cankuzo province, his wife and several off-duty soldiers. Survivors and witnesses estimate that approximately thirty rebels who had been in the area since early that afternoon orchestrated the attack.7 All were surprised by the ambush since National Route 2, on whichthe attack occurred, had previously been considered safe; the attack illustrates the vulnerability of Burundians going about the ordinary activities of daily life.
During the weekend of January 15 and 16, insurgents, probably of the FDD, attacked several times in the commune of Makebuko, Gitega province, located in the center of the country. On the evening of Saturday January 15, a group entered the town and raided and attempted to burn the administrative office. They killed two of the watchmen. Later that evening insurgents broke into a local health clinic and stole medicines and supplies from the dispensary. On Sunday evening rebels returned to the area to pillage and burn another health center in the town of Maramvya, a few kilometers north of Makebuko town. During this raid, they killed two persons, one a cattle herder who resisted the theft of his cattle.8
Attacks by Burundian Armed Forces on Civilians
In the area of the capital, Burundian army soldiers massacred some forty persons on the road between Kabezi commune and Bujumbura on December 31, 1999. A military officer had apparently ordered the road closed after a rebel ambush had killed two soldiers in the vicinity three days before. The civilians knew nothing of the order and were simply heading towards Bujumbura when they were cut down by military fire.
On one occasion in early February, FNL insurgents launched a pre-dawn attack on a military post near the regroupment camp of Kavumu which is largely populated by Hutu and located just outside the Bujumbura city limits. Soldiers at the post returned their fire and reportedly continued firing after the FNL insurgents had retreated over the hills. The camp lay off to the side, removed from the path of the insurgents' advance and retreat. Yet shots were fired into the camp and killed four persons in a single house. Camp residents told Human Rights Watch researchers that soldiers fired those bullets and that they did so after the insurgents had retreated in the opposite direction. On another occasion, during an exchange of fire between soldiers of the post and insurgents, an eight year old child was killed and a thirteen year old was wounded. Camp residents said that soldiers firing from their post had shot the children.9
In the east, on the morning of January 25, Burundian soldiers killed civilians in the area of Muriza parish where FDD insurgents had been looting and burning in the preceding days. After chasing the insurgents away, they killed at least twenty-three and possibly as many as sixty-three persons at Rusumu. The oldest victim was a seventy-one-year old man and the youngest was a baby of eight months. That same afternoon, soldiers killed at least twenty-six and perhaps as many as fifty-three people at Rubano, including elderly people, children, and eight small babies.10 Two days later, soldiers shot and killed a woman and her child, supposedly in an exchange of fire with insurgents at Nyabigozi. The next day, soldiers shot and killed another woman in Kinyinya commune, again purportedly as they went in pursuit of insurgents. On January 29, a local official from the commune of Bweru called in troops following the FDD attacks in the area. He held a mock trial of local residents who were supposed to be supporters of the FDD. The soldiers then slaughtered thirty-three civilians and wounded two others, who were later hospitalized at Bweru. They also burned twenty-three houses of persons accused of having lodged the insurgents.11
Violations of International Humanitarian Law
Attacks by the Burundian armed forces and by the FNL and FDD on the lives and property of civilians clearly violate international humanitarian law. In addition, the FNL use of the civilian population of the Kabezi camp as a shield in their attack on the neighboring military post also violates this law. The soldiers' firing into Kabezi camp might also constitute a violation of international humanitarian law. Military authorities should investigate whether or not the soldiers took all feasible precautions to protect civilian life when returning hostile fire from the camp.
Burundian military officers, FNL and FDD leaders, and representatives of international humanitarian organizations met recently in Geneva to discuss attacks on the civilian population and on humanitarian agencies. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross reviewed relevant texts of international humanitarian law, reminding all parties of their responsibilities to protect non-combatants. Participants in the meeting concluded that protecting civilians was a priority but they signed no commitment to implement this understanding and insurgents have since continued their attacks on civilians. As a party to the Geneva Conventions and to Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions, Burundi has an obligation to observe these provisions of international humanitarian law.
In one exceptional case of restraint, soldiers at Kabezi took no reprisals on the camp population after insurgents had used the camp as a point of attack on their post on February 18, and the FNL commander during that same attack reportedly ordered his men not to fire on a civilian pickup truck on the road below.12
2 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, January 21, 2000.
3 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kabezi, February 19, 2000; Bujumbura, February 21, 2000.
4 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, January 11, 2000.
5 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, January 13, 2000.
6 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, February 17, 2000.
7 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, January 14 and 17, 2000.
8 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, January 17 and 20, 2000.
9 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kavumu, February 14, 2000.
10 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, March 14, 2000.
11 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, March 14, 2000.
12 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kabezi, February 19, 2000; Bujumbura, February 21, 2000.