Several people died during clashes between Burundi security forces and a rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to police and rebels.
Burundian rebel group RED-Tabara said the clashes occurred during an incursion into Burundi territory.
The police said they killed 14 “criminals” while the rebels claimed they had shot around a dozen officers.
Burundi’s security ministry on Tuesday tweeted that “a group of armed criminals from the DRC had been ‘dismantled’ at dawn the previous day.
It said that 14 “criminals” were killed after “contact” was made at Kayange in Bubanza province and that 11 rifles were seized.
The group “intended to repeat the carnage of Ruhagarika of 11/5/2018,” the ministry claimed, a reference to a notorious massacre of 26 people near the DR Congo border.
The ministry did not say whether any police officers had been killed, while witnesses and local administration sources said that several had died.
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a high-ranking member of RED-Tabara dismissed the police’s toll as “complete fantasy.”
“As we had the advantage of surprise, a dozen police officers were killed, and on our side, we lost one fighter and another was captured,” he said.
According to local witnesses, the rebels arrived in Burundi at 4:00 am. The fighting lasted several hours and caused thousands of locals to flee the area.
On Tuesday, a Twitter account that claimed to speak for the rebel group said that on Monday’s “26th anniversary of the assassination of a hero of democracy” RED-Tabara fighters launched “the beginning of a resistance for a rule of law.”
It said that RED-Tabara fighters passing through Bubanza province “had contact with the army” of President Pierre Nkurunziza.
It warned that “Burundi is not as stable as the current regime claims.”
The Defense Post has been unable to verify the authenticity of the Twitter account.
The anniversary noted refers to a military coup on October 21, 1993, during which President Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, was killed by factions of the Tutsi-dominated armed forces, sparking a 22-year inter-ethnic civil war in which around 300,000 people died.
Tensions between Burundi’s Hutu majority and the powerful Tutsi minority have beset the country since independence in 1962.
President Pierre Nkurunziza initiated the latest crisis in April 2015, when he announced he would seek a third term in office – at odds with the constitution’s two-term limit – sparking civil unrest that has left 1,200 people dead and over 400,000 displaced.
The next presidential election is scheduled for 2020, and, although the constitution was amended by referendum in 2018 enabling him to to stay in office until 2034, Nkurunziza has said he will step down.
Based in eastern DR Congo, RED-Tabara, which means Resistance for the Rule of Law in Burundi, is one of several armed groups formed in late 2015. Burundian officials claim the group is led by Alexis Sinduhije, one of the government’s most outspoken opponents. Sinduhije leads the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy political party, and RED-Tabara has been referred to as its military wing, although the rebel group has denied that Sinduhije is its leader.
With reporting from AFP