CIBOTOKE, Burundi (AFP) – Rebels in Burundi, who have suffered heavy losses in recent battles with the army, had planned a major offensive to destabilise the country ahead of elections later this year, the army said Monday.
Over 100 fighters were killed last week by Burundi’s army in forests some 50 kilometres north of the capital Bujumbura, where documents were found that showed the rebels had plotted “attacks throughout the country before elections” due in May and June, army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza told reporters.
Burundian officials and witnesses said the group of unidentified rebels crossed into Burundi last Monday from Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Kivu region, a chronically unstable and resource-rich area that is home to dozens of rebel groups.
The army said they had battled the rebels – reportedly numbering around 200 men in total – for five days.
They have yet to give details of the identity of the rebels, who sources said included men from both Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.
Security forces said the rebels were trying to reach the Kibira forest, an area used in the past by rebel groups as a base to stage attacks.
Previous attacks in Burundi’s border region have been claimed by a splinter faction of the National Liberation Forces (FNL).
Also on Monday in DR Congo, United Nations peacekeepers and the Congolese army launched on Monday a “ground and air offensive” against FNL rebels based there.
A UN spokesman in DR Congo said troops had taken several Hutu rebel strongholds.
The main body of FNL – a highly disciplined Hutu group notorious for singing hymns as they carried out attacks – signed a peace deal with the Burundian government in 2009 and have since become a political party.
The upsurge in violence comes ahead of a series of crucial elections due to begin in Burundi in May, culminating in presidential polls in June.
Burundi, a small nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war and its political climate remains fractious ahead of the elections when President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, is expected to run for a third term in office despite opponents’ claims that would violate Burundi’s constitution.