A rights group said yesterday that it had seen evidence indicating possible mass graves in Burundi as unrest escalated with the arrest of 17 people in a security sweep, including two foreign journalists.
Satellite images, video footage and witness accounts show that dozens of people allegedly killed by Burundian security forces in December were later buried in mass graves, Amnesty International reported.
The rights group reported that there are five possible mass graves in the Buringa area, on the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura, which has been wracked by violence as the security forces go into neighbourhoods seen as opposition strongholds. Two journalists on assignment for the French newspaper Le Monde were among 17 people swept up in a military operation Thursday, said Moise Nkurunziza, a deputy spokesman for Burundian police.
Le Monde demanded the immediate release of Jean-Philippe Remy and British photojournalist Philip Edward Moore.
Witnesses described how police and local officials scoured Nyakabiga and other neighbourhoods in Bujumbura to retrieve the bodies of those who were killed and took them to undisclosed locations, according to Amnesty International.
“The imagery, dating from late December and early January, shows disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts. Witnesses told Amnesty International that the graves were dug on the afternoon of 11 December, in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest day of Burundi’s escalating crisis,” the group said.
Earlier this month, UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein also called for an urgent investigation into the alleged mass graves following the violence in December. Zeid said at the time that the “increasing number of enforced disappearances, coupled with allegations of secret detention facilities and mass graves is extremely alarming”.
Burundi’s government dismissed those allegations, saying they were based on false information from the regime’s opponents.
In co-ordinated attacks, gunmen stormed three military installations in Burundi on 11 December. The next day, 28 people were found shot dead in Bujumbura. An eyewitness said some of the dead had their hands tied behind their backs.