At a side of the Rusizi River in Burundi, not far from a group of hippos and half hidden by huge clumps of reeds, lies the first body, a headless man naked to the waist.
Close by, surrounded by pieces of trash, are two more — one a woman, also decapitated.
To reach Gatumba, where the Rusizi flows into Lake Tanganyika to the west of the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, one has to walk for an hour through dense and towering reeds.
“For the past week the Rusizi has been washing down corpses with marks of violence … this morning we counted four,” said Julien Nimbona, a local official.
“Last week we buried first four, then six, so that’s a total of 14 corpses from the Rukoko marshes in less than a week. People are frightened, really frightened because we don’t know if the war has resumed or not,” Nimbona said.
The discovery of the corpses comes after at least other 14 civilians were killed in the Rukoko marshes in attacks attributed to “unidentified armed men”.
These incidents seem to confirm persistent rumours of the presence of new rebel pockets in Rukoko and in the Kibira forest, which runs from north to central Burundi.
“I helped bury most of those corpses — some were decapitated, others had the limbs bound or had machete wounds,” said a fisherman from Gatumba too afraid to give his name.
“I’m afraid. Everyone in Gatumba is afraid because everyone knows that once again there are fighters in the Rukoko marshes.”
‘Fear has taken over’
Several families in the area said they had no news of relatives who went into the marshes to gather reeds or wood. Some families also spoke of young people who went there to join the rebel movement.
“I’ve heard talk of people being killed in the Rukoko marshes and of others being recruited there but no one wants to admit this publicly because people are scared,” said Nimbona.
“Fear has taken over the region because people are afraid that hostilities will resume,” he added.
Gatumba, with about 35 000 inhabitants, is a stronghold of the old Burundian rebellion, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), now an opposition political party. No one dares mention the mysterious new armed group.
Lucie, a woman of about 30, is collecting water in a battered jerrycan held together with tar.
“Look at my clothes, look at my baby … we’re poor. If there is a another war in Burundi, it will be the end for people like us,” she said in a resigned voice.
Burundi has been struggling to recover from more than a decade of civil war that left 300,000 dead and the country’s economy in ruin. — AFP