NAIROBI, Kenya — Men in army fatigues and carrying military-grade weapons burst into a crowded bar in Burundi and opened fire, Burundian officials said Monday.
The violence killed 36 people and laid bare how combustible Burundi is a year after a disputed election.
Burundian officials immediately accused an armed opposition political party that had recently fled into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, and many Burundians fear their country could be sliding back toward war.
In the 1990s, more than 200,000 people were killed in this tiny central African nation in ethnically driven violence that soon became a dangerous free-for-all involving warring militias, rival politicians, criminal gangs, and child soldiers.
According to witnesses, 10 gunmen descended at about 9 p.m. Sunday on the Chez Les Amis bar in Gatumba, a small town near the Congo border. An African diplomat in Nairobi said the bar was owned by a supporter of the Burundian government and that it was a well-known watering hole for fans of the governing party.
The gunmen ordered everybody in the bar to lie on the floor, and then they opened fire.
“Kill them all, kill them all.Make sure there’s no survivors,” one of the gunmen said, according to an Associated Press reporter who spoke to witnesses.
Government officials said 36 people were killed and 15 wounded. After the attack, witnesses said the gunmen slipped across the border, just a few miles away.
In recent months, Burundi has been haunted by mysterious killings, with gagged and bound bodies showing up in rivers. Diplomats and human rights groups say the Burundian government has embarked on a campaign to methodically eliminate opposition supporters.
“The government has been slaughtering them like rats,” said the African diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly. The attack, he said simply, “was payback.”
In 2008, the last of Burundi’s heavily armed rebel groups agreed to form a political party. A truce held until last year, when several opposition leaders claimed the government rigged local elections, prompting opposition leaders to withdraw from the presidential election. Agathon Rwasa, a rebel leader who briefly flirted with civilian life, suddenly disappeared, and many analysts said he had returned to the bush, in Congo, to reorganize his militia.