— Satellite imagery of the outskirts of Burundi’s capital
supports emerging accounts of graves holding at least 50 people who died during political violence last month, the human rights organization Amnesty International said on Friday.
The report added to the growing evidence of organized atrocities in the country. Observers say they believe the violence was largely carried out by the Burundian government and by pro-government forces, amid immense turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April his intention to seek a third term in office.
Separately on Friday, France protested the detention of two journalists working for the newspaper Le Monde — a French correspondent, Jean-Philippe Rémy, and a British photographer, Philip Moore — on Thursday in the capital, Bujumbura. The arrests, which occurred while they were interviewing opponents of the government, were confirmed on state radio and television.
The government accused the journalists of collaborating with violent rebels, saying that the authorities had confiscated a mortar, a Kalashnikov and pistols during the arrests, in the Nyakabiga district of Bujumbura.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, urged the “immediate release” of the journalists, and he said that diplomatic initiatives to secure their release were underway.
The new evidence of mass graves is sure to raise alarm over the situation in Burundi, a small country in East Africa
that was once a colony of Germany
and later of Belgium
The United Nations identified nine mass graves this months that its investigators said contained at least 100 bodies, and it reported that at least 130 people had been killed since December. It also said that Burundian security forces had engaged in gang rape and other atrocities.
Nearly 100 people were killed on Dec. 11 and 12, when opposition gunmen attacked military installations around Bujumbura, and security forces responded with reprisals and arrests in opposition-stronghold neighborhoods.
More than 30 bodies, mangled and bloated, were strewn through Bujumbura’s streets, in full public view, on the morning of Dec. 12. Amnesty International, citing witnesses, said that there were up to 53 bodies, and that more could be buried in multiple mass graves at two different sites.
Analysis by Amnesty International on Friday of photographs and videos of the Buringa area of Bujumbura showed patches of recently disturbed earth in areas where, according to witnesses, corpses were transported hours after the recent violence.
One satellite image from December showed what appeared to be a heavily uprooted patch of sandy earth that, in an earlier image in November, did not appear to have been disturbed.
“These images suggest a deliberate effort by the authorities to cover up the extent of the killings by their security forces and to prevent the full truth from coming out,” Muthoni Wanyeki, the regional director for Amnesty International, said in a statement.
The State Department warned this month that it was “deeply alarmed” by reports of mass graves and enforced disappearances after the political violence in Burundi.