BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A former rebel commander suspected by Burundi’s security forces of masterminding the murder of 36 people in an attack last year has been killed by the Congolese army, a senior Burundian officer said on Friday.
Carmel, also known as Mukono, was believed to lead an armed gang operating between Burundi and neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. He was also a senior commander in the former Forces for National Liberation (FNL) rebel group.
Carmel was blamed by Burundi for having organised an attack in September on a bar in the western city of Gatumba, 16 km (10 miles) west of the capital Bujumbura. The bar was said to be a popular drinking haunt of supporters of the ruling party.
“Carmel was shot dead in clashes between his group and Congolese forces in Uvira city (in Congo) when his armed group ambushed transport buses,” Colonel Kabisa Domitien, a senior officer in Burundi army, told reporters.
“He was killed on Wednesday and his body was transferred to us on Thursday,” he said.
The Gatumba attack was the deadliest in a string of attacks last year in Burundi, which has enjoyed relative peace since the Hutu FNL movement laid down its weapons and joined the government in 2009 after almost two decades of civil war.
But violence has intensified following an opposition boycott of 2010 elections, raising fears of a new rebellion.
Burundi’s intelligence agency has also accused former FNL boss Agathon Rwasa of being behind the attack. Rwasa, who is believed to be in Congo, has rejected the allegation, accusing in turn the intelligence service and national police of committing the attack to discredit the opposition.
In January this year, a Burundian court sentenced 16 people to jail terms ranging from three years to life after they were found guilty of taking part in the raid.
In a report this week about rising political violence in Burundi, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) cast doubt on the fairness and credibility of Gatumba trial.
HRW said the proceedings were deeply flawed. It said several defendents complained in court of being tortured, while the judges refused to call senior police and intelligence agents suspected of being involved in the attack to court.
The report said scores of people had been killed in political attacks since the end of 2010, by state agents, members of the ruling party and armed opposition groups.
It said the government has tried to restrict independent media and civil society efforts to denounce the violence.
The rights group said on Friday that the government ordered it to cancel a news conference scheduled for Wednesday to release the report, and had banned its distribution in Burundi.