A rebel attack on Burundi from neighbouring Congo has left at least 20 dead, the government says
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — At least 20 people have been killed in Burundi following an attack by a rebel group based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, a Burundian government spokesman said Saturday.
Among those killed were 12 children and three women, two of whom were pregnant, spokesman Jérôme Niyonzima said in a statement.
The attack targeted nine homes on Friday evening in the western town of Vugizo, close to the Lake Tanganyika border with Congo, according to the Burundian government.
RED-Tabara, a Burundian armed rebel group based in South Kivu, eastern Congo, claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on X, formerly Twitter. The group, which denied having targeted civilians, claimed to have killed nine soldiers and a police officer.
Burundian authorities consider RED-Tabara a terrorist movement. The group first appeared in 2011 and has been accused of a string of attacks in Burundi since 2015.
Witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press said the rebels appeared to be wearing Burundian army uniform and civilians were “left to their own devices” after the military and police fled.
“We realised they were attackers when they attacked the police position guarding the border,” said Priscille Kanyange, a farmer. “Many people here were injured by bullets (as they were) trying to flee.”
Farmer Innocent Hajayandi, who witnessed the attack said security forces fled, “leaving the residents to their own devices.”
André Kabura a grocery shop owner, who was wounded in both legs by gunfire, said the military and police were slow to regroup and fend off the attackers.
On Friday, Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye told army, police and intelligence officers to remain vigilant, warning that “the enemy never sleeps even if we have security.”
In August last year, Burundi deployed soldiers to eastern Congo as part of a regional force invited by Congo to tackle the resurgence of the M23 rebel group there. Some observers believed that the Burundi troops from the seven-nation East African Community force would be used to crush RED-Tabara.
However, the East African Regional force is currently being withdrawn in phases from the violence-plagued eastern Congo following complaints from locals and authorities that instead of disarming the rebels, the forces were cohabiting with them.
The Burundi Human Rights Initiative said Burundi had secretly deployed hundreds of troops and militia to Congo in 2021 to fight RED-Tabara. The impact of that secret deployment is not clear.