Bujumbura, Burundi – Gilbert Nsaguye is in a pensive mood, still haunted by a recent attack near the capital Bujumbura led by the Palipehutu FNL, a rebel faction loyal to Commander Agathon Rwasa.
The attack which Nsaguye survived on the night of September 3rd left 21 people dead and hundreds displaced in Butere neighbourhood north of the city.
“It was a night of terror,; we were awoken by deafening explosions,” recalls the 42-year-old father of five, who has since moved to a safer, location. “Nobody could tell where the attack came from. Only God saved me from unavoidable death.”
The Burundian army had assembled alleged FNL dissident combatants “committed to peace” in Buterere, while the government was still hesitant on how to handle them.
The Palipehutu FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying his movement wanted to put things right after reports of FNL defections had surfaced.
He said the so-called “dissident combatants” were a creation the government aimed at weakening his movement.
According to Habimana, the combatants are remnants of the former CNDD-FDD rebel group in power since 2005.
Following the Buterere attack, Burundi army Chief of Staff Gen. Germain Niyoyankana admitted that it was “a mistake” to assemble the FNL rebels near a
They were later removed.
However, as more combatants came out of the bush to seek protection from government forces, a similar attack was led three weeks later against their position in Rugazi (Bubanza province, north west of Burundi), leaving two people dead and scores injured.
A few days later, three high ranking FNL officers were shot dead in cold blood near a hotel in the city centre, leaving city dwellers astounded.
The error mentioned by the army chief was never corrected.
Hundreds of FNL combatants were indeed assembled in Gakungwe locality, Kabezi commune, some 10 kilometres south of the capital.
The new site was targeted by a deadly attack similar to that of Buterere on the night of October 21, leaving 19 dead, including two government soldiers.
The attack provoked the wrath of the local population, who accused the government of deliberately putting peoples’ lives in jeopardy.
“It’s unbelievable how they (the government) brought those people here near our village,” complained Veronique Nahimana, a peasant woman heading to Kabezi commune carrying a few of her belongings.
The area is now hosting hundreds of the displaced persons, fearful to return to their homes.
“The army was supposed to protect us, but it’s like the site was unguarded,” Joseph Bizoza in his thirties at the displaced centre, said bitterly.
Last Friday, Army spokesman Col. Adolphe Manirakiza told The New Times that the government would assemble all the dissident rebels in one site and ensure their
protection, a statement that many at the Kabezi displacement centre have qualified as “empty words”.
For his part, Habimana has warned that unless as the so-called FNL dissident forces change their name, they will never be at peace, hence compounding the fear of
those who have been displaced by the recent clashes.
The FNL, or Front de Libération Nationale, as its French acronym goes, is the last rebel group still negotiating peace with the government of Bujumbura.
The two parties signed a ceasefire deal in September last year in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but efforts aimed at its implementation have stumbled over key issues like the liberation of political and war prisoners, as well as the political future of the FNL
A delegation to the ceasefire implementation talks in Bujumbura escaped their South African guards and spectacularly disappeared in the bush last July, raising fears that war would resume in the tiny central nation of 7 million.
Since then, the Palipehutu-FNL leadership has rejected Charles Nqakula, South Africa’s security minister, as chief mediator, accusing him of bias.
During a press conference on October 21, Nqakula stunned the audience when he said the mediation “would take into account” the FNL dissident combatants, after his team had visited their assembly site near the city.
He said the breakaway faction had asked to join the on-going talks on the implementation of the ceasefire and promised that the mediation would ensure they are provided with food and other necessities.
Burundi is trying to emerge from 14 years of civil war that has left over 250,000 dead and shattered its economy.
The writer is The New Times correspondent based in Bujumbura, Burundi