Over 200 Burundian soldiers detained for refusing to fight M23 in Congo

By Esther Muhozi
On 29 February 2024 at 08:19

A total of 242 Burundian soldiers are detained in various parts of the country for refusing to participate in the battle their peers are engaged in against the armed group M23 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The American news agency, Associated Press, reported on February 28, 2024, that these arrests took place in the provinces of Bururi, Rumonge, Ngozi, and Ruyigi for charges including "mutiny and refusal to follow battle orders."

All of them have been interrogated by the prosecution.

The Bururi prison holds 21 soldiers, Rumonge has 103, the Ngozi detention center contains 84, while 34 are detained in Ruyigi.

Most of these soldiers were removed from the DRC and have been imprisoned since December 2023, based on an order from the military headquarters.

The Burundian forces began to join the DRC’s fight against M23 in October 2023, following a military agreement between the two countries signed in August of that year.

The coalition fighting on the side of the DRC government expanded to include forces from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), United Nations peacekeeping missions, mercenaries, and armed groups including those from Wazalendo and FDLR.

A Captain who deserted the Burundian military told the news agency that the conflict their colleagues are participating in in the DRC is baseless, as those sent do not understand what they are fighting for.

He stated, "For a soldier to go to battle, they should at least know why they are there. It’s also important to understand our strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the enemy we face. But we were asked to fight blindly."

A senior Burundian military officer confirmed that indeed many soldiers are imprisoned for refusing to fight M23, and some have been dismissed from the military for this reason, while others have been acquitted.

"Some have already been dismissed from the military, but there are also those who have been acquitted. There’s no secret, many soldiers are imprisoned for this reason," he said.

President Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, on December 29, 2023, confirmed that there are soldiers assisting the DRC government in fighting M23, denying the arrest of those who refused to fight.

The President explained that those detained were due to violations of military code of conduct, stating that it’s a common occurrence in the Burundian military and elsewhere in the world.

President Ndayishimiye also acknowledged the loss of soldiers in this war, emphasizing that no soldier goes to battle with the intention of dying.