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Guardians enjoyed virtually unquestioned authority over the civilian population, a situation which shielded them from accountability. Said by authorities to be civilians operating under civilian laws, the guardians in practice answered far more directly to soldiers for their conduct. Guardians got their orders, weapons, and ammunition from soldiers. They also got from them sometimes less explicit but still clearly understood indications of what kind of behavior would be tolerated. Although soldiers sometimes scorned and insulted the guardians, they nonetheless depended on them as their link to local people. "Ordinary people didn't dare say a word against us," said one guardian. He continued: "The soldiers took our word for everything. Even if a guardian said someone was a rebel, the soldiers would believe them without proof. The soldiers said, `These are your people. You know them better than we do.'"62

In several of the cases of common criminality detailed above, guardians have been arrested and charged with crimes but have not yet been brought to trial.63

62 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

63 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bururi, August 18, 2000; Bujumbura, September 29 and October 4, 2000; July 2001.

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