Burundian soldiers were attacked in a night jungle ambush near the border with Rwanda, Burundi’s defense ministry said, with military sources on Tuesday, November 19 reporting at least eight soldiers’ deaths.
Dozens more soldiers were missing in the ambush on their base, one of largest and deadliest attacks for several years, senior army officers said on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A group armed with rifles from Rwanda attacked a position of Burundian soldiers on Mount Twinyoni,” defence ministry spokesman Major Emmanuel Gahongano said on state television on Monday. “This armed group has withdrawn to Rwanda.”
He did not give details of casualties or the identity of the attackers.
The attack at Mount Twinyoni in thick forests around 10 km from the Rwanda border and around 100 km (60 miles) north of the capital Bujumbura took place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Around 90 soldiers were reported to be in the base before the attack.
But when reinforcements arrived hours later, they found only the bodies of eight comrades, including of the company commander, a senior officer told AFP.
Later, 15 soldiers were found alive, some of them wounded.
“The rest of the company is still missing,” the officer said. Their fate is unknown.
The military source reported that attackers were well-equipped.
“Our soldiers were surprised by assailants wearing bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles, which completely wiped out the position,” the officer said, a report confirmed by two other military sources.
“We believe that it is not mere rebels who are responsible for it.”
Burundi has repeatedly accused neighbouring Rwanda of supporting rebel groups in its territory, a claim Kigali denies.
Rwanda on Tuesday denied any role in the attack.
“It is not true that the attacks were made from people who came from Rwanda,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, State Minister for Regional Affairs, told AFP.
“These are unfounded allegations being made from Burundi – as they have done previously for the last four years. We have other things to do.”
No armed group has claimed responsibility.
President Pierre Nkurunziza initiated Burundi’s 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.
Several killed in clashes between Burundi security forces and RED-Tabara rebels