Burundi has secretly sent hundreds of troops and members of a youth militia into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo since the end of 2021 to fight an armed rebel group, a Burundian human rights group claimed Wednesday.
The main target of the operation is the RED-Tabara, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative said, referring to the most active of the rebel groups which is considered as a terrorist organization by the Burundian authorities.
Burundi has always denied carrying out any secret operations, insisting it has acted only within the framework of joint operations by the East African Community (EAC), African Union, or United Nations.
Burundi is part of a regional force agreed by the EAC in June to fight the myriad rebel groups involved in an upsurge of violence in the eastern DRC that has ensnared neighboring countries.
"Several hundred Burundian soldiers and Imbonerakure — more than 1,000 — are believed to have gone to the DRC in successive waves since late 2021," the BHRI which has headquaters outside of Burundi, said in a report.
The Imbonerakure are members of the youth league of President Evariste Ndayishimiye's party.
"For more than 10 years, Burundian soldiers and Imbonerakure have periodically sought to hunt down Burundian armed opposition groups in the DRC," the BHRI said.
About 700 Burundian fighters
"But the current operation is different in scale and duration," it said, adding that about 700 were estimated to be on DRC soil in the early phase of the deployment in December.
The rights group said it was not able to confirm the exact numbers of troops or incursions, although it reported that the UN Group of Experts collected information on 17 incursions in the Uvira region between September last year and this March.
Citing tetimonies, the group added: "Some soldiers are ordered to swap their military uniforms for civilian clothes and leave behind possessions that could identify them".
The report said some Imbonerakure have become angry about their treatment during the military operation, with some saying they felt they had been deceived or abandoned.
In May, Ndayishimiye said he was ready "to discuss" with Burundian rebels in DRC, in particular RED-Tabara and the National Forces of Liberation (FNL).
Founded in 2011, RED-Tabara has been accused of a string of attacks in Burundi since 2015.
In September, it claimed responsibility for an attack on the international airport in Bujumbura, the country’s economic capital.