Amid mass grave allegations, Burundi authorities arrest 2 Western journalists

Phil Moore -- one of two Le Monde journalists recently arrested in Burundi --  holds a sign advocating for the release of Al Jazeera journalists held until recently in Egypt in this February 2014 picture.

Story highlights

  • The 2 journalists are freed, in good condition after more than 24 hours in custody
  • Le Monde says they were interviewing opposition leaders; a Burundi official says they were caught with armed youths
  • Amnesty International reports fresh allegations of Burundi forces killing dozens, burying them in mass graves

(CNN)As fresh allegations surfaced about mass graves there, Burundi authorities detained two Western journalists for over 24 hours, an indication that the troubles roiling the central African country are affecting other nations.

French journalist Jean-Phillipe Remy and British photographer Philip Moore were working for Le Monde, one of France's top newspapers, in the Burundi capital of Bujumbura when they were taken into custody Thursday.
A Burundi government representative said the pair were arrested along with armed youths during a security sweep of an opposition neighborhood.
    Le Monde said the pair were working at the time of the arrest -- specifically, meeting with political opponents of longtime President Pierre Nkurunziza.
    Jerome Starkey, The Times' Africa correspondent, called Moore one of the "best photojournalists of his generation" and a "deeply loyal friend."
    Starkey added, "He would be the first to say, 'Journalism is not a crime.'"
    Moore and Remy were released Friday afternoon following just over 24 hours in custody, according to journalist Julia Steers, who met both men afterward and described them as being in good condition. They told Steers that they were questioned overnight after being detained but never were formally charged.
    SOS Medias Burundi, an independent media entity, tweeted out a picture of Remy and Moore freed. And Le Monde also confirmed the pair's release.
    Burundi, a country of about 10 million people, is no stranger to unrest, with an estimated 300,000 people dying in a civil war that was fought from 1993 to 2003.
    That bloody conflict ended with peace deals, and Nkurunziza came to power in 2005. In April of last year, he announced that he would run for a third term in an apparently clear violation of the Burundi Constitution and the agreement that ended his country's civil war.
    Nkurunziza won re-election in July, provoking violence in Burundi. In the months since, scores have died and more than 170,000 people have fled.

    Allegations of rapes, mass graves

    This month, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called for an investigation into recently discovered mass graves and soldiers raping women during home searches.
    Hussein said then that Burundi troops carried out retaliatory attacks after street violence in mid-December. He also pointed to the discovery of nine mass graves, one of them on an army base, holding 100 bodies total.
      On Thursday, Amnesty International reported that "new satellite images, video footage and witness accounts ... strongly indicate that dozens of people killed by Burundian security forces in December were later buried in mass graves."
      Muthoni Wanyeki, the advocacy group's top official in the region, said: "These images suggest a deliberate effort by the authorities to cover up the extent of the killings by their security forces and to prevent the full truth from coming out."