Authorities in Burundi have announced the discovery of more than 6,000 bodies in six mass graves.
The findings in Karusi province are the largest since the government launched a nationwide excavation in January.
Pierre Claver Ndayicariye, chairman of the country’s truth and reconciliation commission, told journalists on Friday that the remains of 6,032 victims, as well as thousands of bullets, were recovered. Clothes, glasses and rosaries were used to identify some of the victims.
Referring to a 1972 massacre which is believed to have targeted people from the Hutu ethnic group, Ndayicariye said families of the victims were able to “break the silence” that was imposed 48 years ago.
The country has suffered colonial occupation, civil war and decades of intermittent massacres.
The government-run commission was set up in 2014 to investigate atrocities from 1885, when foreigners arrived in Burundi, until 2008, when a stalled peace deal to end the civil war was fully implemented.
So far it has mapped over 4,000 mass graves across the country and identified more than 142,000 victims of violence.
Burundi’s population is divided between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. Its civil war, which killed 300,000 people before it ended in 2005, had ethnic overtones.
The commission’s mandate does not cover most of the rule of current President Pierre Nkurunziza, who took office in 2005.
In 2015, Nkurunziza’s campaign for a third term plunged the country into violence and led to an enduring political crisis.
In 2018, he surprised observers when he announced he would not seek another term in office, despite a new constitution adopted by referendum allowing him to do so.
The United Nations has warned that human rights abuses may increase again before elections scheduled for May.