Burundi death squads kill 300 - claim
Bujumbura - Government-backed death squads have killed more than 300 members of Burundi's former rebel group and opposition supporters in covert operations over the past five months, a rights group said on Tuesday.
The group said the central African country's regime and its proxies have waged a systematic campaign of extra judicial killings against the former rebels, who went back to the bush after pulling out of 2010 polls over fraud claims.
"A devilish killing machine is targeting opposition activists," said Onesphore Nduwayo, the head of Government Action Observatory, a coalition of civil society groups.
"For over five months now, more than 300 demobilised FNL [National Liberation Forces] fighters have been killed," he added.
"These people were arrested by the Imbonerakure [ruling party youth wing] or by police or secret service members, and were taken to unknown places where they were killed."
Government spokesperson Philippe Nzobonariba told AFP he would respond to the charges later in the day.
The opposition Movement for National Solidarity "now appears to be in the eye of the storm," Nduwayo said, noting that three party members had been killed in similar circumstances in the past fortnight.
The Burundian government set up a commission last year to investigate several cases of extra judicial executions reported by the United Nations, but despite international pressure it has not issued a report.
Wave of violence
"Nothing can explain such a wave of violence because the government says that there is peace in the country," Nduwayo added, urging the international community to "break its silence" over the violence.
An increase in deadly attacks and executions has left many fearing a resumption of broader hostilities in this country, devastated by a long civil war that claimed nearly 300 000 lives between 1993 and 2006.
On Monday, security forces shot dead 18 "armed bandits" in clashes in the eastern province of Cankuzo, part of a new rebellion based in Ruvubu National Park in the east of the country, officials said.
Such attacks have been intensifying for almost a year across the small central African country since the 2010 re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza in polls boycotted by the opposition.
Monday's clashes were among the deadliest since security forces started cracking down on what they describe as "armed bandits".
In September, heavily armed men attacked a bar in a town near Bujumbura and killed at least 36 people. Gunmen dressed in military uniforms ordered customers to lie on the ground before firing indiscriminately.
The trial of 21 suspects will resume December 1.
Journalists with private radio stations accused of backing the opposition have also complained of harassment by the government.
Last week, Burundi's interior minister accused the country's main private radio, Radio Publique Africaine, of inciting the population to disobedience and hatred, and ordered it to submit bank details and records.
Earlier this month the directors of RPA and two other private radio stations were ordered to divulge their sources of funding, but they refused to do so.
Several press freedom and activist groups have criticised Burundi's government for harassment of independent media.
It prompted radio stations last week to protest, by calling on their listeners to hoot their vehicle horns in opposition against "extra judicial killings and violations of freedoms".