Rights watchdog urges independent probe of Burundi killings

Nairobi (AFP) - US rights group Human Rights Watch called Sunday for a "serious and independent" inquiry to be carried out urgently into the latest violence in Burundi that left at least 87 people dead.

"This is by far the most serious incident, with the highest number of victims, since the start of the crisis in April," Carina Tertsakian, HRW's researcher for Burundi, said in a statement.

"A serious, independent investigation is urgently needed to find out the exact circumstances in which these people were killed."

Burundi's army said that 79 "enemies" and eight soldiers were killed during the bloodiest day in months of unrest Friday, which left the streets of the capital Bujumbura strewn with bodies.

The violence began with coordinated attacks by unidentified gunmen on three military installations, which triggered a fierce riposte from the security forces.

The fighting was the worst outbreak since a failed May coup, sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office, which he later won in disputed elections in July.

HRW said outside experts should help conduct the probe.

"Given the politicisation and corruption in the Burundian justice system, outside experts should be brought in to assist," Tertsakian said.

Several witnesses had described the police and army going door-to-door in opposition strongholds in Bujumbura, dragging out young men and executing them.

Army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Baratuza said Saturday all those killed were either "enemies" of the state, soldiers or policemen.

HRW criticised the Burundi police and local authorities for "removing dead bodies from the scene before any investigations could be carried out".

It said the attacks on military sites were "serious" and the government had a "responsibility" to restore law and order.

"However, going out and shooting people in residential neighbourhoods appears entirely unjustified, and the members of the security forces responsible should be held to account," it warned.

UN figures released before Friday's violence showed at least 240 people had been killed and more than 200,000 had fled abroad since May, raising fears of a return to civil war, a decade after the end of a 1993-2006 conflict between rebels from the Hutu majority and an army dominated by minority Tutsis.

Some 300,000 people were killed in the war, which began a year before the genocide of mostly Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda.