Nobody Sleeps at Home

In eastern Burundi, nobody sleeps at home
A man walks nervously past army soldiers in eastern Burundi. While many were afraid of rebels, many more were afraid of the army. Photo by Todd Pitman.

January 28, 2000

By Todd Pitman

KAYERO, Burundi, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Michel Nyandwi has a house in the mountain village of Kayero, set high up on a craggy ridge in eastern Burundi.

But when night falls, he - like thousands of others here - doesn't sleep in it.

Residents say roaming bands of Hutu rebels, who are waging a brutal civil war against

Burundi's mostly Tutsi army, launch raids in the district every night, combing velvety green hills that glow blue in the moonlight for food, money and medicines.

Most people in Kayero, around 95 kms (60 miles) southeast of the capital Bujumbura, stay close to their homes during the day but abandon them at night for fear of the raids.

Hundreds of houses have been burned to the ground in the area over the last few months.

"When night falls I sleep away from my house, out in the banana fields with my family," Nyandwi told Reuters.

On Tuesday, rebels woke Nyandwi from his slumber just after midnight, stealing goats and 11,540 Burundi francs ($20), a hefty sum in a nation were most people earn under $150 a year.

Other attacks have been much more brutal.

Aloys Nyawenda, a 45-year-old businessman living in a displaced camp, said rebels killed one man in Kayero last week because he had no money to give.

They then went to Nyawenda's house, plundered it and set it on fire, leaving behind charred windows, a fallen roof and a floor covered with broken bottles and shattered plates.

"They broke the windows with rifles, destroyed the doors and began to take all my things," Nyawenda said.

"Then they got matches from the kitchen, set the house on fire and left," he said, adding that rebels also took two of his workers hostage, forcing them to carry his belongings away in bags on their heads.


At dusk, the army closes most major roads that twist through the region's hills and valleys to deter ambushes, but insecurity persists.

On Tuesday afternoon, residents said army and rebel troops fought a brief gun battle in Kayero but no one was killed.

Military officials say some zones in the eastern provinces of Rutana and Ruyigi, where rebels are most active, have been completely emptied of their inhabitants after recent fighting.

The general state of insecurity and clashes between the army and rebels in a no-go zone farther to the north in Giharo have forced thousands of civilians to seek nightly refuge at schools, parishes and administrative centres.

Thousands of others have fled this month across the border into neighbouring Tanzania, where more than 300,000 Burundian refugees already live in camps.

Army reprisals and mopping-up operations after rebel attacks give civilians, most of them Hutus, another reason to flee.

Last week in the neighbouring commune of Musongati, 54 people, a mixture of rebels and civilians, were killed during an army operation in pursuit of a rebel unit.

Jean-Pierre Mpfayokurera, a government administrator in the nearby town of Mpinga, said the military was also organising civilian units to help them patrol the areas at night.

But the rebel raids have not stopped.

"The assailants still come every day," Mpfayokurera said. "People are afraid. Nobody can live at home."

(C) Reuters Limited 2000.