Guardians of the Peace, like the "young ones" in northern provinces, scouted with and for soldiers. They also guarded populated areas, whether towns like Makamba and Nyanza Lac, or sites where rural residents had been relocated. They kept watch over traffic on the main roads, sometimes with clusters of armed guardians posted every few hundred yards. They served as a liaison between soldiers and local people, supervising the delivery to the troops of water, firewood, and porterage service provided by the community. They themselves also did chores and manual labor for the soldiers.42
After mid-1997, Guardians of the Peace in the southern provinces played an increasingly important role in military operations both against the civilian population and against rebel combatants. At the time rural residents in some areas resisted the move to regroupment camps. Many wanted to continue cultivating the fields which sustained them and to protect their homes and crops against possible raids by rebels or soldiers. Others feared that they were suspected of rebel sympathies and might be singled out for punishment once under the control of authorities in the camps. Guardians of the Peace assisted soldiers in sweeping the hills clean of civilians who delayed moving or who went into hiding in bush areas.
Guardians also began serving in regular combat against the rebel forces, often being deployed in groups as large as several hundred in the company of a small number-perhaps several dozen-soldiers. Rather than being used as a "self-defense" force to protect their home regions, guardians were sent as surrogate soldiers on maneuvers miles away and for weeks at a time. Half or fewer of the guardians would be armed with automatic weapons, with the rest carrying supplies and ammunition. Participants and other witnesses agree that guardians always preceded the soldiers, both in moving across the countryside and in direct instances of combat. In part because of this pattern of deployment, according to participants, the number of guardians killed or wounded in such combat ordinarily exceeded the number lost among regular soldiers.43 Caught between soldiers and rebels, the guardians were frequently caught in the cross fire. According to one guardian, "The soldiers tell us that if fighting starts, we should fall to the ground. Otherwise we risk being shot, even from behind."44 According to an estimate from one knowledgeable observer, as many as 25 percent of guardians who began their service three or four years ago have been killed in combat.45
42 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bururi, August 18, 2000; Bujumbura, May 13 and 17, June 3, June 10, August 8, 2000; June and July, 2001.
43 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bururi, August 18, 2000, Bujumbura, October 4 and 17, 2000; June and July, 2001.
44 Human Rights Watch interview, Bururi, August 18, 2000.
45 Human Rights Watch interviews, June and July 2001.