In the first days of February, Hutu FNL combatants under the command of Agathon Rwasa, chief of operations, systematically killed Rwandan Hutu, who had been fighting with them against the Burundian army. Burundian authorities estimated that two hundred to three hundred combatants were killed, but the witnesses provide accounts of the deaths of about one hundred.17
According to survivors of the killings, a number of Rwandan and Burundian insurgents had quit the FNL in previous months, some of them discouraged by losses to the Burundian army or by increasing privations, others attracted by radio broadcasts in which authorities offered good treatment to those who came over to their side. As early as September 1999, FNL leaders suspected Rwandans of wanting to leave the movement, purportedly because they had been contacted by letter or in person by recently arrived compatriots who sought to persuade them to go home.18
FNL leaders accused one Rwandan officer of planning to quit and relieved him of his command and his weapon in late October. In December FNL commanders disarmed a large number of Rwandan insurgents and confined them to camp at Gitenga, in Kabezi commune, saying that they were temporarily on reserve duty. Between January 1 and 3, they suspended nine Rwandan officers and they arrested another at Gitenga on January 28. During this same period the local FNL commander had five Burundians arrested and killed because he suspected them of disloyalty. According to one witness, FNL leaders decided to kill the Rwandans on January 29 and began by executing Rwandan officers whom they had gathered in a house.19
Two days later, battalion commander Albert Sibomana directed the execution of Rwandans at several other posts near Kibuye in the commune of Isale. In one location, FNL fighters summoned a group of some twenty Rwandans and Burundians at 3 a.m., supposedly because Burundian army soldiers were approaching. They separated the Rwandans from the Burundians and ordered the Rwandans to hand over their weapons and to remove their military clothing. They put the Rwandans in a house and showered them with bullets. They left, believing all the victims to be dead, but several survived to recount the events. At another post, a Burundian who was under detention for supposedly wanting to desert witnessed nine Rwandans being brought into the house where he was being kept. He was then freed and managed to flee and thus did not see the execution of the Rwandans which apparently took place. At another post, Segatare, the commander of the reserve battalion, arrived during the night of February 1 or 2, accompanied by forty FNL insurgents. He ordered the twenty-three sleeping fighters awakened and tied up, both Rwandans and Burundians. Segatare and his men took the captives to a place called Kagorogoro on the border between Isale and Mugangomanga communes and there shot the eight Rwandans. They freed the Burundians, except for one who was suspected of too close ties with the Rwandans. He later escaped when the FNL fled at the arrival of Burundian soldiers.20
On February 5 and 6, fishermen on Lake Tanganyika reported bodies floating down the Rusizi River into the lake. Several of the cadavers had their arms bound behind their backs. Human Rights Watch researchers who canoed along the lake shore on February 13 saw four bodies caught in the reeds. One was that of a young man who had had a leg amputated at the knee some time before. The cause of death was not apparent, but another young man had been slain by the blow of a machete across the back of the neck, presumably while he was lying face down. A third cadaver had been decapitated. All showed signs of decomposition suggesting that they had been in the water for at least a week. These bodies were among sixteen that fishermen reported having seen in the days immediately preceding. They appear to be linked to the conflict to Rwandans and Burundians within the FNL but it is not clear whether they were more Rwandans killed by the FNL or FNL combatants killed by Rwandans to avenge their slaughtered compatriots.
Although the many Rwandan insurgents apparently were killed or fled, others continue to be active in the FNL. One, Boniface Karinganire, a lieutenant j.g. in the former Rwandan army, has been a senior FNL officer since May 1997. As of mid-February, he reportedly continued to serve as part of the FNL general staff. The leader who directed the above-mentioned attack at Kabezi on February 18 gave orders to his men in Kinyarwanda, indicating that either he or the combatants or both were Rwandan.21
One person purportedly in touch with the FNL leadership told Human Rights Watch that the insurgents had in fact killed Rwandans among their ranks. But he asserted that the killings were pre-emptive, meant to abort a plan by Rwandans, Burundian army soldiers, and fighters of the rival FDD to eliminate the leadership of the FNL. Following battles for territory between the FNL and FDD in late 1997 and early 1998, most of the FDD left the area, some going over to the Burundian army and others moving further west to continue their combat against the government. The two insurgent forces have continued their hostility and have sometimes attacked and killed civilians who supported their rivals. With extensive political maneuvering under way in connection with the peace negotiations, the FDD is rumored to have moved closer to the government position. In this context, a joint undertaking to weaken the FNL is not impossible, but the plot as described by this informant seems not to fit other facts in the case.
Another source close to the FNL also acknowledged the killings and explained them as pre-emptive, but in this version, the Rwandans had been solicited to kill the FNL leadership by Burundian military authorities who offered them payment and a promise of either integration into the Burundian army or a return to Rwanda.22
Whether or not the Burundian authorities made some arrangement with the Rwandans, they have treated well those who surrendered to them or who were captured by them. The military spokesman told Human Rights Watch that the Rwandans were to be called "survivors" of the FNL massacre rather than prisoners, although they were kept under guard. The wounded were receiving good treatment at the military hospital in Bujumbura. Authorities indicated that they had no plans to extradite any of the "survivors" to Rwanda and one even suggested that the Burundian government had an otherwise unexplained obligation "to protect" them.2317 Idem. 18 Idem. 19 Idem. 20 Idem. 21 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, February 21, 2000. 22 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, February 18, 2000. 23 Human Rights Watch interview, February 15, 2000.