Armed men believed to be from Congo burst into a pub in the central African nation of Burundi and killed 36 people, an official said Monday. One wounded man said an attacker yelled:"Make sure there's no survivors."
Burundi, a tiny nation still reeling from a civil war that killed more than 250,000 people, is awash in weapons but attacks like the one Sunday night are rare. The nation has been relatively stable since the Forces for National Liberation, a former rebel group, aligned themselves with the government in 2009 after two decades of revolt.
The attack is the deadliest the country has seen this year, and has triggered fears of further bloodshed in Burundi. The region borders eastern Congo, which is wracked by violence from a myriad of rebel groups.
Bujumbura province governor Jacques Minani said the attackers targeted the pub in Gatumba, west of Burundi's capital, after crossing the river from Congo.
The gunmen forced pub patrons to the floor and shot them indiscriminately, according to Reuters.
Survivor Jackson Kabura, who was shot in the stomach, said the men entered wearing fatigues.Others said a few wore police uniforms.
"I saw a man in military fatigues," said Kabura. "One of them said, 'kill them all, kill them all. Make sure there's no survivors."'
President Pierre Nkurunziza has declared three days of mourning and gave the government one month to find the culprits.
"The persons who were brutally assassinated were our brothers and sisters," he told a crowd at the scene of the attack on Monday, according to Reuters. "I promise that those criminals will be arrested and brought to justice."
Congolese officials deny that gunmen were from Congo
Congolese military spokesman Col. Sylvain Ekenge said officials were "astonished" by reports that the attackers were believed to be from his country.
He said the perpetrators are more likely to be rebels from Burundi's last rebel army, the Forces for National Liberation. He said Congolese forces had captured some of the Burundian fighters in Congo several months ago.
"It is they who often attack Gatumba and its surroundings, even if Burundian authorities call them bandits, but in this forest there are (Burundian rebel) fighters," he said.
For the past year there have been reports that the extremist Burundian Hutu rebel group, led by Agathon Rwasa, is operating in eastern Congo and may be preparing for war in Burundi. Burundi has suffered attacks on police which allegedly are linked to a renewed rebellion by the group.
The U.N. mission in Congo has reported the presence of NLF fighters and bases in eastern Congo, and suggestions they may be allied with Rwandan Hutu rebels also operating there.
The U.N. Group of Experts on the Congo in a November report quoted "multiple credible sources" on the Burundian group rearming and remobilizing in Congo. But Burundi's government has said there is no evidence the group is preparing for war.
Burundi's war started in 1993, when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, a Hutu. A cease-fire was declared in 2006 but it took several more years to finally see an official end to the fighting.
Gatumba was the site of a 2004 massacre of Congolese refugees. Human Rights Watch said at least 150 people were killed in the attack claimed by the Forces for National Liberation.