Burundi Bodies: The Inside Story
The relations between Kigali and Bujumbura are set for tough times after Burundi claimed Tuesday that dead bodies discovered by fishermen in Lake Rweru straddling borders of the two countries were from Rwanda.
Burundi Prosecutor General Valentin Bagorikunda told press in Bujumbura that preliminary investigations indicate that over 40 bodies seen floating on the lake since July “came from Rwanda” and that they “they were carried by the Akagera River to Burundi side.”
Bagorikunda cited the geography of the area and testimonies from Burundian fishermen, security officials and locals living along the border.
The development comes at a time when the international community is piling pressure on both countries to “get to the bottom of the matter” and hold masterminds of the killings accountable.
Rwanda is yet to respond to the latest accusations by Burundian officials.
However, the Rwanda National Police has since refuted claims that victims killed and thrown in Lake Rweru found in Muyinga Province, Burundi, were Rwandan citizens.
“We can confirm that there are no missing Rwandans among the bodies,” the Commissioner for Criminal Investigation Department, ACP Theos Badege, said.
The mayor of Ngoma and Kirehe also confirmed no citizens in their area have been reported missing.
“Through the usual good working relation with his Burundian counterpart, the Regional Police Commander-Eastern Province crossed to Burundi to continue investigation and inform his counterparts that there is no case of missing people on the Rwandan side,” ACP Badege added.
President Kagame maintains his government is eagerly waiting for any request from Burundi or the region to help investigate the source of the bodies.
“We have actually said we are interested in working with Burundi or the region to find out what happened,” said Kagame in a recent interview with American network MSNBC.
According to a knowledgeable source, Burundian authorities last year started a project of training a militia in the jungles of South Kivu in DRC.
Members of the ruling party CNDD-FDD’s militant youth wing known as Imbonerakure were sneaked to Congo for military training.
It is thought the Imbonerakure will play a major role in the 2015 presidential elections in which President Pierre Nkurunziza is expected to stand for a third term in office despite the expiry of his fixed two-term reign.
The United Nations this year also expressed concerns about the militancy and violence perpetrated by the youth movement against members of the Tutsi-dominated UPRONA party.
Chimpreports broke news of a leaked UN cable to the U.S. Envoy to United Nations, Samantha Power in which a UN official in Bujumbura said, “there was distribution of weapons and military outfits to the youth affiliated to the ruling CNDD-FDD (Imbonerakure) party and the demobilised ex-AIMP Rumonge.”
In the “confidential” memo to his bosses in New York on April 3, 2014, the UN official observed that “a meeting was held in a hotel known as Kukanyamuneza belonging to a ‘Brigadier General’ in Nduwumunsi in Rumonge” to draw a plan on doling out the weapons.
He further observed that night training for the handling of these weapons was held near the Central Prison of Rumonge (Kumurembwe) and that the surrounding population heard the gunfire.
“One can only speculate about the purpose of the distribution of weapons and uniforms in Bururi which is a traditional stronghold of the UPRONA.”
Burundi remains a fragile country after enduring three decades of a bloody conflict.
UPRONA has since denounced and quit the coalition government, setting the stage for a political showdown ahead of the 2015 elections.
After UN busted Burundi’s plot to train militants on its soil, authorities decided to shift training grounds to the densely forested areas of Congo, recruiting more youth from Burundi.
Off the record, Burundian security organs admitted the operations were aimed at fighting FNL rebel units based in South Kivu.
Several Congolese militia and Burundi army officials started training Imbonerakure together with Congolese youth from the “Bafurero” community.
However, there was a disagreement on paying the Congolese and the Imbonerakure new recruits for their services.
Some threatened to spill the secrets to the international media. The Congolese instructors were rounded up and killed before bundling bodies onto two small trucks.
According to our sources fifty-one militia members were lured to Burundi with the promise to be relocated to Somalia including better wages.
From that group forty six people were reportedly killed by Burundian security organs, thirty four are Bafurero and twelve are Burundian recruits for the Imbonerakure. One escaped and is still on the run.
Four are detained in Mpimba Bujumbura’s Central Prison. Three of them are under age, maybe the reason why they were spared.
Sources said the bodies were taken to the Nyamata border with Rwanda but failed to cross as officials in Rwanda rejected a bribe to allow them “dump some things there.”
One of the Congolese instructors is said to have escaped.
The bodies, or at least some of them, were later dumped in Lake Rweru. Officials investigating the incident suspect that Burundian authorities liaised with locals to construct a narrative that bodies came from Rwanda.
“During the 1994 genocide, thousands of bodies were found in Lake Victoria in Uganda. How come they were not found in Lake Rweru or any other part of Burundi?” wondered the source who has investigated dozens of border disputes and conflicts in the Great Lakes region for the last 25 years.
This investigative website has also learnt that Burundi authorities have been mobilising their citizens near the border to prepare for a possible military attack from Rwanda.
“Bujumbura is trying to whip up ethnic sentiments ahead of the much-anticipated presidential elections. Some top leaders in the Hutu-dominated government have been quoted as saying they will not allow the Tutsis in UPRONA to take over power, even if it means going to war, they will not hesitate,” said a diplomat.
Critics argue this is more of a smoke curtain for the evidence on the ground: the real competition comes from the other “Hutu” parties like Agathon Rwasa’s FNL.
Observers say bringing back the ethnicity program in politics is a disguised way to ask the Hutu to rally round CNDD FDD and president Nkurunziza and forget the divisions.
As a matter of fact for the last five years all the assassinated “political” victims have been member of the FNL … and not Tutsi.
However “Burundi government officials have been spreading propaganda that the ‘Tutsi government in Rwanda’ is supporting the Tutsi in the country and that there is need to oppose the “Hima-Tutsi” hegemony movement in the region.”
And no one can ignore that all this happens at a time of intensified pressure on the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu armed group operating in DRC, to disarm and to go back to their home country or to be relocated.
Observers say if not well handled the crisis could push Rwanda and Burundi towards a confrontation.
During his latest trip to Bujumbura this year, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic said, “Violence linked to the electoral process must be prevented and harassment against perceived political adversaries must not be tolerated. All these are preconditions for free and fair elections in 2015 and for its results to be accepted by everyone.”
Šimonovic’s delegation also met with Burundian officials, representatives of the international community, civil society groups, and visited Bujumbura’s Mpimba prison.
Mr. Šimonovic expressed particular concern at the fact that the number of politically motivated incidents involving the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party, against perceived political adversaries, has more than doubled compared to the same period last year.
He called on the Government ensure that perpetrators of political violence are held accountable.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights added that many donors consider that a continued assessment of the human rights situation is important to extend their support to the country.
By Chimp Investigations Unit