Burundi has been sending troops and civilians into the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight Burundian opposition armed groups in a secret mission, says a human rights group.
The Burundi government has been sending its forces and members of the ruling civilian youth party in a clandestine mission to fight Burundian armed opposition groups in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a rights group said.
In a report released on Wednesday, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI) detailed how hundreds of military and Imbonerakure – members of the ruling party’s youth league – were sent since December 2021 to DRC to fight RED-Tabara, a Burundian armed opposition group.
According to the report, the mission was not in conjunction with the Congolese armed forces. Instead, the Burundian army had formed alliances with armed groups in the country – some of who oppose the Congolese army.
“The secretive nature of the Burundian military build-up in the DRC, along with the militarisation of Imbonerakure and the openly hardline rhetoric of senior ruling party officials in Burundi, should concern international actors,” BHRI said.
“The drift towards a more authoritarian and militaristic approach could signal a backsliding towards an even more repressive form of governance.”
The rights group interviewed soldiers and civilians from both Burundi and DRC, including ruling party and opposition members, and Imbonerakure and their relatives.
From the information gathered, BHRI said that the military operation is linked to “a trend of increasing militarisation” in Burundi, countering President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s attempts to present a conciliatory and acceptable image on the international stage.
Despite the operation being an open secret, the government has not officially acknowledged sending troops to the DRC.
The report says that some Imbonerakure were effectively misled into carrying out a combat mission in a foreign country, for which they were wholly unprepared for and did not receive military training. They were paid between 50,000 and 200,000 Burundian francs ($24 to $96), and were warned to not talk about their role or the military operation.
According to testimonies from soldiers, troops crossing into the DRC were ordered to change into civilian clothes so that the international community could not identify them as Burundian soldiers.
There are also reports that at least 40 soldiers who had allegedly refused to go to the DRC or…