Little has been publicly known about the organization of the two major insurgent movements. In a series of interviews with Rwandans and Burundians who recently deserted from the FNL or who were captured by the Burundian army, Human Rights Watch was able to learn something about how this movement operated in the region of the capital.
The former FNL fighters described three main centers of action around Bujumbura in recent months: one in Rukoko, northwest of the capital, where commanders are based and where the sick and injured go to recuperate; one in the area of Isale, Mubimbi and Mageyo, east of Bujumbura; and another south of the city in Mutambu and Kabezi. The leader of the movement, Cosan Kabatura, operates from outside the country. The local chief of operations is Agaton Rwasa. Albert Sibomana commands the Eagle (formerly Leopard)battalion which is divided into two companies, red and black, and which has operated most recently in the Isale region. Jean-Marie Hakizimana leads a second battalion deployed in the Mutambu-Kabezi area. The fighters cluster throughout the area in small groups, mostly quartered in the homes of local residents who have been forced by the government to move to regroupment camps. The insurgents live mostly from plundering crops from local fields.
According to some witnesses, the FNL forces in the vicinity of the capital numbered somewhat over 1,000, while another source close to the insurgents put the numbers above 2,000. One witness reported that the FNL suffered serious losses over the last year as they stepped up their attacks on the capital of Bujumbura. He estimated that insurgents in Kabezi had declined in number from 300 to 150 as a result of Burundian military action, illnesses, and desertions. He reported that the FNL was currently recruiting men and boys in the city and in regroupment camps to try to rebuild its strength. He stated that the insurgents recruited boys as young as fourteen to serve in their ranks.
In contrast to these descriptions of a dwindling force, another witness still close to the FNL gave a more favorable assessment of its strength. He related that the insurgents had brought reinforcements into the region of Kibuye during December and asserted that they at times were able to control parts of the twelve kilometers of road that leads from Kibuye to Rushubi, the administrative center of the commune and the province. He added that increased numbers of Burundian soldiers had also been brought to the region but that they had been unable to dislodge the insurgents from their posts at Kibuye and Rutegama. According to the witness, the FNL move freely in and around the local regroupment sites and enjoy considerable support from the population. The insurgents reportedly have told local residents that they do not intend to steal from them but rather to protect their homes from soldiers who intend to destroy them. While perhaps accurate in evaluating FNL strength several weeks before, this assessment seemed not to take into account the negative effects of the FNL slaughter of its Rwandan fighters, as described below.