UN concerned at rising tensions after massacre of Congolese refugees in Burundi

18 August 2004

The United Nations peacekeeping missions in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are concerned about rising tensions along the border since the massacre of over 150 DRC ethnic Tutsi refugees in a Burundi camp late last week and the subsequent claim of responsibility by a Hutu rebel group operating in that country.

With only 3,100 of the promised 5,600 troops on the ground, the peacekeeping UN Operation in Burundi (UNOB) has redeployed troops in the area of the Gatumba refugee camp in Bujumbura Rurale province where the murders took place, UNOB spokeswoman Isabelle Abric told UN Radio from the Burundian capital, Bujumbura.

Just two days before the Friday night massacre in the camp, UNOB had condemned the ongoing violence in Burundi and specifically in Bujumbura Rurale, she said in an interview. Meanwhile, the Gatumba refugees had refused offers by the UN to relocate them farther inland, believing they would soon be going home.

Burundi's Hutu rebel National Forces of Liberation (FNL), which said it had carried out the attack, had been involved in talks with the Government, facilitated by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Burundi and UNOB chief, Carolyn McAskie. "Things were moving on actually until Friday morning (and) we were pretty hopeful that we were getting somewhere," Ms. Abric said.

Burundian authorities issued international arrest warrants for the FNL yesterday, she said. But she noted that the FNL did not usually attack "this type of population of refugees."

Meanwhile, the spokeswoman for the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Patricia Tomé, told the daily press briefing in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, "It is urgent that we put out the flames that are being fanned right now in the east of Congo and in the region."

"The hour calls for intensive diplomatic activity, as witnessed by the meeting today in Tanzania of six African heads of State, including Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Joseph Kabila of the DRC and Domitien Ndayizeye of Burundi."

As part of the diplomatic response, South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, the mediator for the 2000 Arusha peace accord which the FNL has not signed, and Ms. McAskie were also attending the Tanzania meeting. The 20th meeting of the Arusha Accord implementation group also took place on Monday and Tuesday.

Earlier in the day the international committee to monitor the transition held a second extraordinary meeting this week at MONUC's Kinshasa headquarters, Ms Tomé said.

Charges and counter-charges made in the news media and threats of intervention by certain regional political and military figures over the massacre only served to fuel a dangerous war of words, frightening civilians and radicalizing public opinion, she added.

A preliminary inquiry was being conducted by UNOB and representatives in Burundi of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with technical help from MONUC.

"Their report should be sent to the Security Council at the beginning of next week," Ms. Tomé said.

The Council, meanwhile, is studying a report sent it by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday, which recommended increasing the MONUC troops to 23,900 from the 10,800 men currently deployed.

At the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, five experts on human rights issued a statement condemning the massacre and calling attention to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibiting racial discrimination in all its forms, saying "no one shall be deprived of his life."

Special Rapporteur on Racism Doudou Diene, independent expert on human rights in Burundi Akich Okola, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women Yakin Ertürk, and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Genocide Juan Méndez called for a prompt investigation and said the perpetrators should be held accountable to international standards.


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