KIRIBA, Burundi (AP) -- Villagers say the Tutsi soldiers came at dawn. Armed with machine guns and machetes, they took positions around the densely populated clusters of mud huts. Then, mayhem.
''I was looking down on the village,'' Onesphone Bugusu remembers. ''I saw soldiers kill my 90-year-old grandmother with a machete blow to the neck.''
Another Hutu villager, Mathilde Nyakana, shows where a Tutsi army bayonet slashed the head of her 1-year-old daughter.
The child survived, one of the lucky few. Villagers say Tutsi soldiers massacred about 1,000 Hutus as they roamed from village to village July 27 in Gitega province, in central Burundi.
In addition to witness accounts, fresh graves and splotches of dried blood in the sun-scorched banana groves of Kiriba village give testimony to what happened that day. Indentations in the ground suggest that soldiers mounted machine guns there, trapping villagers in crossfire while machete-wielding companions went in for the kill.
The army denies committing such a massacre.
But a survey of the area, combined with at least 100 interviews with survivors, local officials and non-partisan observers, made it possible to piece together a horrifying tale of slaughter.
The July 27 attacks came two days after the Tutsi-led army launched a coup, ousting the Hutu president and installing a Tutsi major, Pierre Buyoya, in his place. As the slaughter took place, Buyoya was holding a news conference in a Bujumbura hotel, trying to convince reporters and civic leaders that he could control the country's 20,000 soldiers and restore peace to Burundi.
Two days later in Bihuroro, another Gitega province village, residents saw soldiers drag screaming women and children from their homes, beating some to death with sharp rocks. Blood-covered rocks lay scattered around the huts. Villagers say 43 people were killed.
More than 150,000 people have been killed since October 1993 in this ethnically divided nation where 85 percent of the people are Hutus and 14 percent are Tutsis. Fighting between the Tutsi army and Hutu rebels, who took up arms after the Oct. 1993 assassination of a Hutu president, has intensified this year.
Amnesty International reported this week that between July 25 and July 29, military attacks killed at least 250 Hutus -- a figure that does not include the 1,000 Hutu peasants that witnesses say were slaughtered on July 27.
United Nations sources told The Associated Press that 268 Hutu civilians were killed on July 26 in several villages in Gitega province, and that soldiers killed many more Hutus in villages the following day.
Nevertheless, the military claims that since the coup on July 25, calm has prevailed in this tiny central African nation.
The army admits to killing some Hutus on July 27 in Gitega province, but gives a very different version of events. It says Hutu rebels attacked a coffee factory in nearby Giheta on July 26, and the army retaliated, killing some 30 assailants.
But several independent sources, who asked for anonymity because they fear for their safety, insist the soldiers themselves set the factory and a nearby rice plantation on fire to justify a retaliatory attack on dozens of villages where Hutu rebels were thought to have taken refuge.
A senior U.N. diplomat said Burundi's ethnic violence is a ''continuous reality'' despite Buyoya's promises of peace. ''But it is my impression that there is some calm for the moment,'' he added.
Still, he acknowledged that since the coup, regular and reliable information from remote areas is almost impossible to obtain.
The U.N. has only five human rights monitors in Burundi, a nation of 6 million people. Although the military usually does not deny monitors access to massacre sites, the monitors' reports are generally not available to the public.
When Tutsis are killed by Hutu rebels, the news is widely reported in Burundi. But when the army kills Hutu civilians, it is never reported in the local media, which is controlled by Tutsis. Outsiders who attempt to investigate massacre sites put themselves in serious jeopardy.
''The military will never allow journalists to see the bodies of dead Hutus,'' said Emmanuel Mpfayokurera, a Hutu member of the parliament ousted in the coup.
Hutu rebels routinely attack camps for Tutsis displaced by the conflict as well as businesses, military convoys and government posts. But soldiers reportedly stage fake attacks on Tutsi positions in order to justify retaliatory assaults on Hutus.
The Zaire-based rebels further endanger the Hutu population by infiltrating villages, because the army does not distinguish between rebels and civilians.
''To the military, the Hutus are all one common enemy,'' said one diplomat. ''The soldiers don't think they're doing anything wrong when they kill civilians.''
Since independence from Belgium in 1962, the minority Tutsis have controlled the country and the military, which Tutsis consider to be their protection against being wiped out by the more numerous Hutus.
''The Buyoya regime is a great show,'' Mpfayokurera said. ''It's another Tutsi military regime serving Tutsi interests.''
But Hutu peasants in Gitega province say they don't care about the political intrigue in Bujumbura. They are concerned only about when the army will strike next.
''We have already left our homes, and we are moving around because we know the soldiers will come,'' said a 73-year-old woman in Kiriba district. ''They say the army does not kill Hutus, but we know that is not the reality.''
=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press