FOCUS-Burundi villagers say 185 killed in fighting
But the army vigorously denied on Friday it had killed civilians and blamed ethnic Hutu rebels for the attack.
The killings, in the southern province of Makamba, coincided with the resumption of peace talks aimed at ending Burundi's five-year ethnic conflict.
Residents of Makamba commune in the same province told Studio Ijambo radio journalists on Thursday government soldiers burned 30 civilians alive in a house on January 20 and killed 36 others after an attack by Hutu rebels.
''In Murango locality (Makamba commune) government soldiers came, burned a house with 30 civilians in and shot 36 others in front of the house,''Josephine Hakizimana said.
''I was shot in the stomach but managed to escape,'' said Hakizimana from a hospital bed in Makamba.
Seventy-six people died when the army attacked a church in Makamba's Muresi commune the same day looking for rebels or their supporters, according to witnesses.
''When we saw government soldiers arrive near Muresi church, we all cried 'save us, we are innocent civilians,''' said Marc Twaha, who lost six family members at Muresi. ''But one soldier replied 'Shoot on them. They collaborate with the rebels.'''
The violence followed two attacks by rebels on January 14 in other communes in which the rebels killed 43 people, they said.
A senior Burundi army officer said rebels entered from Tanzania and killed around 20 people over three days starting on January 20 before the army intervened.
Rebels displaced many people and burned many houses before the army came in and killed rebels, said Lieutenant-Colonel Isaie Nibizi, adding he did not know how many rebels died.
''When you heard that the military intervened and killed people it is absolutely false,'' Nibizi told Reuters in Nairobi by telephone from the Burundi capital. ''They (the army) intervened on the side of the population.''
Peace talks on Burundi restarted in north Tanzania on January 18 bringing together the Tutsi-dominated government and Hutu rebels.
Regional states also suspended sanctions last week against Burundi, imposed after President Pierre Buyoya took power in an army coup in July 1996.
Civilians have been the main casualties in Burundi's conflict and human rights groups accuse both army and rebels of serious violations. Around 150,000 people have died since 1993.
Local government officials said rebel fighters were showing their strength on the ground in Makamba to coincide with the resumption of peace talks and the suspension of sanctions. Reut10:24 01-29-99
Copyright (c) 1999 Reuters
For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit www.trust.org/alertnet