Background and links on the Titanic Express massacre
On December 28th 2000, twenty-one unarmed civilians, including my sister Charlotte Wilson (a British aid worker), and her Burundian fiancé Richard Ndereyimana, were murdered. They were killed after their bus, bearing the ill-fated name “Titanic Express”, was ambushed in Bujumbura-Rurale, close to the Burundian capital Bujumbura.
According to survivors, the attackers opened fire on the bus at around 3.30pm local time (1.30pm in the UK), shooting out the tyres and forcing it to crash. A large, well-armed group then surrounded the vehicle, ordered the passengers out, robbed them, and separated them according to their ethnicity. Several Hutus and Congolese were released unharmed. The remaining passengers were stripped to their underclothes, made to lie face down on the ground, and shot. Most of the victims were Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis. Charlotte Wilson was the only European on board.
Who carried out the attack?
The Titanic Express massacre took place in an area dominated by a Hutu-extremist rebel group known for its hatred of Tutsis, Palipehutu-FNL (aka “the FNL”). One survivor recounts that the attackers specifically identified themselves, saying “We are the FNL, not your FDD” (FDD was the FNL’s largest rival at the time). Others have simply described them as “rebels”.
In March 2001 Amnesty International listed the Titanic Express attack among several believed to have been carried out by the FNL. In May 2001, the International Crisis Group attributed the Titanic Express attack to FNL “troops under the order of… Agathon Rwasa”. A Human Rights Watch report from April 2000 lists a number of carried out a number of similar attacks in the same area earlier in 2000.
In 2002, a document emerged which appears to be a detailed report by the FNL, signed by Commandant Albert Sibomana, of the Titanic Express attack, listing what was looted from the bus, how many people were killed and how many bullets were expended in killing them. Dozens of smaller attacks were listed in the same report.
Sibomana’s track record is bloodthirsty even by the standards of Burundi’s conflict. In February 2000, he reportedly oversaw the massacre of hundreds of his own comrades, after a split within the FNL.
At the time of the Titanic Express attack, Agathon Rwasa was FNL “Chief of Operations” around Bujumbura. In early 2001, he ousted the FNL’s then leader Kossan Kabura, and assumed overall control of the whole group.
Following years of negotiations, the FNL agreed to end hostilities in April 2009, and began disarming. But amid ongoing instability, the UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces for a “new holy war” from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Later I’ll add some links to further reading on Burundi’s recent history, and the long-promised plans for a UN-backed “Special Chamber” and Truth and Reconciliation Commission.