Horrified residents awoke Saturday to at least 39 dead bodies scattered in the streets of the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, a day after coordinated armed assaults on three military installations.
Witnesses and journalists in Nyakabiga, a hotspot neighbourhood for anti-government protests in recent months, reported seeing at least 20 corpses, some apparently shot dead at close range.
One witness described some of the victims as "kids" and said they had been shot execution-style "through the top of the skull".
"It is an absolute horror, those who committed this are war criminals," the witness told AFP.
In the neighbouring Rohero II, at least five dead bodies — again young people — were found on the main road, residents said.
In Musaga, close to a military college that was attacked by armed men early on Friday, a local official said there were more than a dozen corpses in the streets. "I have counted 14 dead bodies with my own eyes," he said, blaming "soldiers and police" for the killings.
Several residents contacted by AFP accused the police of rounding up young men after Friday\’s attacks and executing them.
"Most of those killed are young heads of households who were at home… it\’s carnage, there is no other word for it," said an outraged resident of Nyakabiga.
Burundian officials and police could not be reached for comment early on Saturday.
The killings appear to have taken place late Friday, hours after the early-morning assaults on the Ngagara base and a military training college, both in the capital, as well as on a base in Mujejuru, 40 kilometres (25 miles) away.
Burundi\’s army said 12 gunmen were killed and another 21 captured after the attacks.
It was the worst outbreak of violence since a failed coup in May, sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza\’s bid for a third term in office, which he later won in disputed elections in July.
Alarmed by the violence, the United Nations Security Council met Friday following a request from France, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon saying the attacks risked triggering "a further destabilisation of the situation", according to his spokesman.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said, following the closed-door talks, that the Council was ready "to consider additional measures" against powerbrokers in the country who continue to block a political solution to the crisis.
The Council said that sending UN peacekeepers to the violence-gripped nation remained an option, and stressed the need for urgent political dialogue.
The UN chief urged all sides, including the government, "to refrain from any further escalation of violence or retaliation", his spokesman said, warning that anyone "responsible for ordering or committing human rights violations will be held individually accountable".
Also on Saturday, government supporters held marches in Bujumbura and other towns to celebrate victory over the insurgents, following a call by the interior ministry.
Participants marching in the capital with police protection told AFP they were, "celebrating the victory of our valiant army over the enemy."
Months of street protests have devolved into regular armed attacks with gunfire disrupting the nights and dead bodies appearing on city streets almost every day.
Attacks targeting the security forces have escalated, with rebels armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars attacking police convoys and targeting government installations.
Since May, at least 240 people have been killed and more than 200,000 have fled for neighbouring countries, UN figures show.