Constant bloodbaths in Bujumbura

Bujumbura - Five bodies lie next to a mud house. Some are shirtless, as if the victims had been dragged out of bed and lined up before the bullets pierced them.

A moment ago, these men embodied youth and strength. Now they are covered in blood and dust.

"They kill our husbands and sons. And they tell us there is peace," a woman screams.

The crowd that has gathered in Cibitoke, a neighbourhood in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, watches, both incredulous and distraught. A woman sobs. Another breaks into a wail.

Police later say they killed the five because they were plotting attacks.

Incidents such as this one last week take place almost daily in Bujumbura. The situation escalated when insurgents attacked five army barracks and at least 87 people were killed.


"We'll exterminate you like vermin," police told one of the youth arrested - arbitrarily, according to witnesses - in the aftermath.

There has been talk of a repetition of the 1993-2005 civil war, which left 300 000 people dead in the east African country. Thousands of them were killed in massacres between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

"We are already at war," says a political scientist who does not want to be named.

The conflict has pitted police and the ruling party's youth wing, the Imbonerakure, against armed groups trying to topple President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Many are now asking whether the army is about to join the fray.

Nkurunziza's announcement in April that he would seek a third term in office, and his election victory in July, sparked violent protests followed by assassinations and grenade attacks.

The ruling CNDD-FDD puts the number of fatalities at about 200, opposition representatives at 500.

Eloi Ndimira, 57, was one of them.

A witness says Ndimira was returning from a bar in Cibitoke on October 3, when police and Imbonerakure, who had just clashed with demonstrators, accused him of having participated in the protest.

Heart torn out

"We found his body the following morning. He had six bullets in the head and his heart had been torn out," the witness says.

Other bodies have been found with their hands tied or fingers cut off.

Dozens of police officers have also been killed. But the police force is said to have downplayed their losses, and there are reports that they secretly bury slain officers and tell their families they have joined the rebels.

Imbonerakure chair Dennis Karera reports about 20 fatalities among the group, saying some of them were burned alive. The rebels have also been accused of firing randomly at civilians.

Techniques to torture detainees include burning with acid and hanging weights from testicles, according to human rights groups. The intelligence service has "elements" practising torture, admitted an intelligence source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Armed groups fighting the government include a former armed wing of the parliamentary opposition party FNL and members of the opposition party MSD, whose leaders are in exile, according to the intelligence source and others.

They also include Tutsis fearing massacres; army deserters loyal to General Godefroid Niyombare, who staged a failed coup in May; and neighbourhood vigilante groups.

'Full-fledged rebellion'

Some of the armed groups co-operate and "try to organise a full-fledged rebellion," the intelligence source said.

The political scientist estimates the number of rebels at 2 000 in Bujumbura alone.

The rebels have increasingly extended their activities outside the capital, with attacks reported in several parts of the country.

More than 200 000 people - including dozens of politicians, activists and journalists - have fled abroad, while thousands have been displaced inside Burundi.

Ruling party spokesperson Daniel Gelase Ndabirabe dismissed the rebels as "terrorists" trying to seize power.

He accused Rwanda's Tutsi President Paul Kagame of recruiting rebels among refugees and training them in order to empower his own ethnic group in Burundi - an accusation denied by Kigali.

When the five bodies were found in Cibitoke, soldiers standing nearby did not intervene - an attitude typical of the army. There are now reports that some soldiers facilitated Friday's attacks on the barracks and that the army could be on the verge of a split.

The insurgency is fuelled by long-running discontent with Nkurunziza, who has little to show for his 10 years in power in one of the world's poorest countries. More than 80% of Burundians are subsistence farmers and live on less than $1.25 a day.

The political crisis has disrupted business and deprived the government of tax income and of millions of dollars in donor aid. The lack of hard currency for imports has hiked up prices of basic goods such as fuel and medicine.

"My clients are dead, have fled, or have no money," said Esperance Ndayisaba, 38, a vegetable seller at a Bujumbura market.

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