Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Recent Reports 
 Support HRW 
About HRW
Site Map
Human Rights Watch - Home Page


For some time, Rwandan Hutu have been reported in the ranks of Burundian insurgent movements. Often they are assumed to be exiles who had participated in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda, either as members of the Interahamwe militia or as soldiers of the former Rwandan Armed Forces (Forces Armées Rwandaises). According to the FNL deserters, Rwandans did play an important role in that force until recently and were generally ex-FAR, not Interahamwe.13

According to these sources, Rwandans represented as many as half of the combatants in some of the units in the region surrounding Bujumbura. They reportedly held about half the positions of command, at least in the Eagle battalion. Rwandans and Burundians often succeeded one another in any given post and Rwandans seem often to have had Burundians as direct superiors and subordinates. This structure may have represented a conscious effort to assure smooth integration of the two national groups. In fact, until recent months, Rwandans and Burundians appear to have cooperated well together in their combat against the Burundian government.14

The largest group of Rwandans to join the FNL were the some 140 men who had been operating in the Nyungwe forest of southwestern Rwanda as rebels against the Rwandan government. They moved south to Burundi after the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) attacked the Congo (then Zaire) in November 1996 and destroyed the rear base on which they depended. When the fighters arrived in the northwestern province of Cibitoke, they arranged to join the FNL as a unit. Their number, their arms, and their experience made them an important addition to the FNL. This may explain why their commander, Lieut. j.g. Silas Rugira, was named second in command to Sylvestre Nibayubahe, who was then FNL chief of operations. Burundian government military spokesman Colonel Minani provided Human Rights Watch with copies of documents dated May 21, 1997 and November 20 and 21, 1997 which appeared to be agreements formalizing this cooperation. One of the documents states that the Rwandan and Burundian insurgents share a common mission to liberate the "Bahutu" people. FNL fighters recruited two other groups, one of twenty-five and one of four, in the Nyungwe forest inside Rwanda. They recruited other ex-FAR in the DRC and in Burundi. While the group that signed the accords with the FNL in early 1997 may have shared a common ideological commitment, later Rwandan recruits joined the force as drifters, unarmed but ready to resume a military life because they had no other prospects. One, for example, had wandered the region since 1994, walking as far as Zambia. He was heading back towards Rwanda when he was recruited in Burundi.15

Of six Rwandans interviewed in depth by Human Rights Watch, four were former soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (Forces Armées Rwandaises, FAR) and none was an Interahamwe. Two of the former FAR soldiers served in posts where they are likely to have been involved in the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsi, while the other two were posted in places where such involvement would have been unlikely. One of the Rwandans had been a civilian refugee in the DRC until he was recruited by the FNL. He asserts that he was not an Interahamwe, a claim that seems not inconsistent with his place of origin and political party affiliation, but which does not rule out the possibility that he participated in the genocide nonetheless. The sixth Rwandan was a child who had fled Rwanda at the age of nine and survived as a household worker in Burundi until he was forced to accompany the FNL as a bearer after they pillaged the house in which he worked. Then aged fifteen, he had been forced to stay with the insurgents and had served as a cook for the combatants. These data, though limited, suggest that former soldiers of the FAR are more numerous than Interahamwe among insurgents in Burundi and that only some of these soldiers were involved in the genocide.16

Several witnesses mentioned that Rwandans are also serving with the FDD forces.

13 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, February 15, 16, 17, and 18, 2000 14 Idem. 15 Idem. 16 Idem.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page