January 29, 2012 / 8:04 AM / 7 years ago

Burundi court jails 16 for bar killing of 36

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A court in Burundi has sentenced 16 people to jail terms ranging from three years to life for killing 36 people in a bar, the most violent attack last year in the central African country, a defence lawyer said on Saturday.

Burundi has enjoyed relative peace since a Hutu rebel group, Forces for National Liberation, laid down its weapons and joined the government in 2009 after almost two decades of war.

But violence has intensified since an opposition boycott of 2010 elections, raising fears of a fresh rebellion.

The 16 were found guilty of taking part in a raid in September on a bar on the outskirts of the capital Bujumbura, lawyer Janvier Nsabimana told Reuters.

Seven were sentenced to life imprisonment, seven to five-year jail terms and two were given three-year jail sentences, he said. Five defendants were acquitted.

“The trial was not fair from the start to the end. This is why the defence will appeal against the court’s decision,” handed down on Friday, Nsabimana said.

The attack took place when a number of armed men, some disguised as policemen, stormed into the bar in the western city of Gatumba, 16 km (10 miles) west of Bujumbura, and shot the customers one by one. The bar was said to be a popular drinking haunt of supporters of the ruling party.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Days after the killings, the intelligence service released a confidential report in which it accused a former rebel leader, Agathon Rwasa, of being behind the deadly attack.

Rwasa went into hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June 2010 after boycotting the presidential poll because, he said, it would be rigged.

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