Days of fighting between Burundi troops and rebels who entered the Central African country killed 97 people, mostly rebels, Burundi’s government said Monday.
Army spokesman Col. Gaspard Baratuza said that 95 of those killed were members of a rebel group that entered Burundi from bordering Congo. Nine rebels were also arrested from the group that is yet to be identified, he said.
Two government soldiers had also been killed in the fighting that started a week ago some 60 kilometers northwest of the capital, Bujumbura, Baratuza said.
“We decided to bury the dead rebels in the gardens of residents of the area to avoid a human catastrophe such as diseases and the stench that comes from the dead bodies but we are looking at how their remains can be moved,” the military official said.
Burundi’s government released information about the fighting after a civil society organization in Burundi accused government forces of quickly burying the bodies to avoid scrutiny from rights groups saying the government executed the rebels after they surrendered.
Vital Nshimirimana, the head of the local civil society platform Forum Pour le Renforcement de la Societe Civile (FORSC), called for investigations into reports that the army violated the rights of those caught.
Col Baratuza denied the accusations.
“No one was killed after surrendering or after being arrested,” he said.
Between 180 to 200 rebels were thought to have crossed from Eastern Congo into Burundi where they launched the attack, he said.
Eastern Congo is home to a myriad of armed groups and militias.
In 2009, the government signed a peace agreement with Burundi’s last rebel group, raising hopes of a return to a more durable peace.
The attack in Burundi comes ahead of a crucial presidential and parliamentary vote scheduled for May and June. The tiny nation is still on a recovery path after more than a decade of civil war that underscored long-standing ethnic tensions between the country’s Hutu and Tutsi people.