Raiders killed at least 36 people when they stormed a Burundi bar and opened fire on patrons in one of the country’s worst attacks in months, an official said Monday.
The governor of Bujumbura Rural province where the attack occurred Sunday night, Jacques Minani, told AFP at least 36 people had been killed.
An AFP reporter counted 23 bodies piled up in the courtyard of the bar. According to Minani, the remaining 13 died in hospitals in Bujumbura.
The attackers raided a bar in Gatumba area, some 13 kilometres (eight miles) west of the capital Bujumbura in a stronghold of the former National Liberation Forces (FNL) rebels whose leader Agathon Rwasa has been blamed for a recent spate of attacks.
Witnesses said the attack lasted about 20 minutes.
« Those who attacked us are not just bandits. They are fighters, rebels. I swear because I saw them, » said one wounded victim who did not want to be identified.
« Dozens of people, some in (military) uniform and with Kalashnikov (rifles) and grenades entered ‘Chez les Amis’ bar. They told everyone to lie down and began shooting, » said a survivor who lost two siblings and a friend.
The bar premises were littered with broken chairs and bottles Monday, with pools of blood in the yard.
Police cordoned off the bar, but were faced by an angry crowd of several thousand people shouting that they wanted to bury the bodies left out in the hot sun.
Officials said they were waiting for Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza to arrive before the bodies could be buried.
Several diplomats accredited to Burundi were present at the bar Monday.
« I want to offer the condolences of the French government in the face of this unspeakable act and to recall that France, the European Union and the international community condemn in the strongest terms these acts of unspeakable violence, » French Ambassador Jean Lamy said.
« No one can understand what happened, » said Gaspard, an old man who lives next door to the bar.
« These people killed gratuitously, they didn’t steal anything. I think this group, that the authorities are calling armed bandits, wanted to gain notoriety, » he added.
« I’m convinced that FNL bandits did this, » said a senior military officer at the scene.
Some local residents said the bar belonged to a member of the ruling party. At the time of the attack it was full of members of the Espoir FC football team, whose members are affiliated to the ruling party youth league.
Some residents suggested the attack could have been revenge for the killing of a series of FNL members.
The FNL, a former Hutu rebel movement, was integrated into the regular army in 2009, but its leader Rwasa went back to the bush after pulling out of elections last year.
Hospitals were swamped with the injured and doctors struggled to cope with the influx. At one hospital, bodies lay covered in blood-soaked linen on the floor and others in the parking lot, an AFP correspondent said.
Some of the wounded were being treated in hospital corridors crowded with crying relatives.
« We are totally overwhelmed. We are lacking blood, equipment and medicine to treat all the injured, » said a doctor who gave his name only as Leonard.
Genocide-scarred Burundi has suffered a spate of attacks since elections last year when the opposition boycotted the vote, accusing President Pierre Nkurunziza’s party of rigging.
Authorities have blamed the attacks on unidentified armed bandits.
Last week, FNL leader Agathon Rwasa accused state officials of massacring and torturing more than 100 of his supporters.
Hundreds of opposition members have been detained since the 2010 elections, according to some opposition leaders who have urged the government to free them.
The small central African country is still struggling to emerge from 13 years of civil war that erupted in 1993 and left some 300,000 people dead. The escalating violence has raised fears of a resumption of all-out conflict.
By Esdras Ndikumana (AFP)