Burundi’s rebel National Forces of Liberation said its fighters killed nine Burundian army soldiers in an attack in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The insurgents shot dead the soldiers at Kiliba Ondes in Congo’s South Kivu province, near the border between the two countries, Eraste Dondogori, a spokesman for the armed group, said in a phone interview yesterday. Burundi army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Baratuza denied the attack took place and repeated the government’s denial that it has any troops in Congo.
“We did not suffer causalities” during the two-hour gun battle, Dondogori said. “Only two members of our group were injured by bullets.” The attack was in retaliation for an assault on the rebels earlier this month, he said.
FNL, as the group is known by its French acronym, began regrouping in Congo in 2010, a year after a peace deal that ended more than a decade of civil war in Burundi, according to the United Nations. The fighters created bases in South Kivu to use for attacks on Burundi’s army. The rebels previously fought alongside other Hutu militias for several years against the ethnic Tutsi-dominated Burundian army for control of the East African nation.
Burundi is facing growing insecurity ahead of presidential elections scheduled for June 2015. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in March criticized the government for increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in Burundi and expressed concern about violent incidents carried out by the ruling party’s youth wing, known as Imbonerakure.
The UN in April accused the ruling party of providing Imbonerakure with weapons and military uniforms in January and February, according to Security Council Report, a New York-based non-profit group that monitors the UN Security Council’s work. Burundian First Vice President Prosper Bazombanza has demanded the UN either provide evidence for the allegations or apologize, it said.
Burundian human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa last month called for an international investigation into the UN allegations and said he had proof that Imbonerakure is training in Congo.
He was arrested on May 16 and charged with inciting public disobedience and endangering internal and external state security for saying that Burundians are being armed and receiving military training, according to Human Rights Watch.