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Journalists Review Deadly Ambush In Burundi

9 Min Read

As everyone was winding up work and retiring home on a saturday evening a group of armed gun men had finished setting up what would become the deadliest ambush of the week.

Until today, Burundians and especially residents in the town of Rutegama in Muramvya province are still in utter shock following the gruesome terror attack that left 5 people dead, 9 seriously wounded and 2 missing according to local media reports.

This deadly attack follows another simillar ambush-style attack in May in which 12 people were killed in the same Muramvya province.

A team of local journalists set off from their head office in the commercial capital Bujumbura to Muramvya to review the scene of crime.

On the road, life seems normal, bicycles loaded with bunches of bananas or charcoal descend on Bujumbura like suicide bombers, crowded buses, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, minibuses rolling in open grave, vehicles travel agencies, tractor-trailers, loaded tankers, tinted-window pickups with heavily armed men in the back and other large all-terrain vehicles with tinted windows, etc. The traffic is fluid.

From Bugarama to Muramvya and from Muramvya to the capital of Rutegama commune, on the road in any case, nothing suggests that a terrible tragedy took place the night before.

But when we begin the descent from Munanira, towards the place where the ambush was set, all the vehicles slow down or come to a stop. A minute’s silence for those swept away by the deadly attack?

No, curiosity. Passers-by want to see two charred carcasses up close. The vehicles burned Saturday night. The carcasses were cleared to leave the way free for traffic.

The bewildered passers-by look at the carcasses of the vehicles. The expression on their faces speaks volumes. We see fear and desolation. The remains of the crime are there, in all their horror.

At this place, commonly called “Kwa Comptable”, named after a former municipal tax collector, the terrible smell of scorched flesh and gasoline still hangs over the place. You have to have a strong stomach.

Police officers come towards us. They saw our colleague’s camera on Web TV. We are introducing ourselves. In Kirundi, they tell us, “No camera please. Put away your devices and don’t take your smartphones out. Orders from “above” are formal “.

The police are very correct with us, even respectful. Our colleague puts the camera away. We take out our notebooks, the police let us talk to people. In the vicinity of the scene of the crime, people were witnesses.

“You see for example this black thing there, unrecognizable, it is human flesh, charred, this is a charred cell phone, the keys are visible. The attackers had time to burn everything. We see clothes half consumed by fire, a poor bunch of charred bananas, corn and bean seeds reduced to ashes ”.

A vision that will still haunt our nights. In the carcasses of the vehicles, we see charred bones.

Until the afternoon of Sunday, the population and families of the missing sought to identify the remains of their own among the wreckage of vehicles and charred bodies at the scene of the attack.

Testimonies of survivors

It is especially from a few survivors that journalists were able to gather some important testimonies. The injured are being treated at Kibimba hospital. Some had burns on their bodies, others gunshot wounds.

For security reasons, which we understood, the survivors did not wish to be photographed.

A question torments us: “Who attacked?” Those who were strong enough to speak to us say that it is difficult to identify them. “But what is certain, they had guns and were well prepared for this ambush,” said one injured.

“By the time I saw a barricade made of stones in the middle of the road, and bullets had started to whistle everywhere. After that, it was the save-who-can. The operation lasted, I would say a quarter of an hour,” said another survivor.

According to the man, who was shot in the right leg, there was no indication that there were criminals on the road. Traffic was normal on Saturday evening. “No one suspected that people were going to die on this road, we had just come from a family celebration,” the voice chokes, remembering what he has been through.

All the survivors say that the attackers had only one mission: to kill. They coldly shot at the passengers in the vehicles, sprayed them with gasoline and set them on fire.

After their crime, the group of armed men withdrew in the direction of Gashingwa towards the communes of Ndava, in the province of Mwaro and Kiganda of the same province of Muramvya.

Fear sets in

Of course, the lives of these survivors are no longer in danger today, but the fear is there. The survivors fear reprisals from these aggressors. “Maybe they could recognize us and come and finish us off.”

They say this fear is justified because they learned of two people brutally murdered on Gashwinga Hill, one kilometer from the ambush.

The wounded would like to change hospitals quickly so as not to suffer the same fate as this family who had the misfortune of meeting these armed men at the time of their withdrawal.

“I think they’re still around because they can’t just go extinct and volatilize into the wild. They didn’t have time to go very far, “worries another survivor who suffered burns on his shoulder.

The people of Rutegama are afraid; After this ambush, there are a lot of men in uniform moving around in this locality in search of these armed men responsible for this attack.

As they have yet to identify the culprits, worries one Rutegama resident interviewed, we fear they will attack members of opposition parties and retired military personnel. He says he is a member of the CNL party.

In addition, another ambush set in the night of Sunday, May 9, 4 km from the capital of this same province by unidentified armed men is still remembered.

We have to go back down to Bujumbura. A special mention to the authorities and police. Administrators, law enforcement, Red Cross and civil protection agents did a great job, evacuating the wounded and those killed on Saturday.

On the other hand, it cannot be ignored that as journalists we went into the field without any problem. We respected the ban on filming. We had wanted to interview the administrator of Rutegama.

He was very cooperative, he was overwhelmed; “I’m evacuating bodies, there is no mortuary in Rutegama, please excuse me,” he told us. We got it too. Let us hope that this peaceful climate between journalists and the authorities continues.

Of course, we know that a good article must answer the famous 5Ws: “What? Who? Where? When? Why? How much, who, what, how, where, when, why? ” This is a fundamental rule of journalism.

On the way back, we are aware that we do not have the answers to at least two essential questions: “Who are the attackers? And “why do they commit these crimes?”