The attack in Gatumba village, Burundi, on 18 September which led to 39 deaths and more than 30 wounded was unanimously condemned. Its scale provoked a strong reaction by the government which set up a commission of inquiry on 21 September to shed light on the carnage within a month. A total media blackout on investigations was imposed as, despite some protests, the press opted to respect the work of the inquiry.
The disclosure of this correspondence greatly embarrassed the government. While regretting the leak, a government spokesman said that the allegations against Rwasa is one part of the ongoing investigations and that the government is awaiting the final report of the commission of inquiry which is due to be released shortly.
Beyond the political and legal controversy, the unclaimed attack of Gatumba is a considerable deterioration of the security climate. Since the disputed elections of 2010, we have witnessed tensions and armed clashes between CNDD-FDD and FNL members, killings of local administrative officials, arrests of former FNL combatants suspected of collaborating with the "armed bandits", and extrajudicial executions. But not such a massacre of forty innocent civilians. Such a massacre reminds the dark days of the Burundian crisis marked by killings and ambushes. With the current bloody confrontation, many people fear the radicalization of the conflict and the use of force in the political struggle.
Armed bandits or rebels?
But the categorisation of these groups is not the main issue in the eyes of Burundians concerned about the insecurity and daily attacks on civilians. This cycle of violence is taking away the dream of living in a peaceful environment that leads to reconciliation and development. Political violence revives mistrust and suspicion which were supposed to have disappeared in the hearts of many. And many people wonder whether perpetrators of those crimes will ever be prosecuted given the difficulties and long delays in setting up effective transitional mechanisms.
Dialogue or negotiations?
This crisis has become troubling over the deteriorating security climate. Who negotiates what? What is on the agenda of the negotiations? What if the government continues to ignore calls for dialogue? What will happen if "armed bandits" were stepping up their attacks to force the government to sit together? What reaction in the sub-region to this situation that threatens the stability of the Great Lakes, one month ahead of the general elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Are the so called "armed bandits" acting in collaboration with the many militias and the FDLR operating in eastern DRC? Questions are many but answers few and uncertain at the moment.
The long and painful negotiations started in 1998 culminated with the conclusion of the Arusha Agreement and other cease-fire agreements between the government and the armed movements of the era have previously helped end the bloody conflict, reform the army and police and hold multiparty elections in 2005. However, the tensions and violence observed since the 2010 elections require realism. The Burundian political class should show responsibility and political leadership and ensure peace and security for everyone. Intimidation, torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings and ambushes do plunge the country into a political and security uncertainty with unknown consequences.