Global perspective Human stories

After threats and harassment, UN aid workers seek better access in Burundi

After threats and harassment, UN aid workers seek better access in Burundi

Faced with threats of unwarranted taxes and harassment by an armed rebel group in Burundi, United Nations humanitarian officials are seeking better access to the province around Bujumbura, capital of the small Central African country that is emerging from decades of ethnic conflict.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the world body’s representatives had met with those of the group – the Palipehutu-FNL – as well as police and army officials to advocate an improved work environment.

In July the Palipehutu-FNL, the last major rebel hold-out, withdrew from the Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JVMM) set up to monitor a ceasefire it signed with the Government last year.

OCHA said the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had managed to deliver 1,000 tons of food to some 175,000 people. In other humanitarian work, the UN refugee agency transferred 458 Congolese from Bujumbura to a camp in Musasa, where there are now some 6,600 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Meanwhile, UN health workers have detected 310 cases and 4 deaths from a cholera outbreak in Rumonge and Nyanza-Lac. The workers are now disinfecting houses and public facilities, with more than 1,000 households and 11 public buildings affected.

Two days ago, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) until the end of December 2008 and urged the Palipehutu-FNL to return to the JVMM “without delay or preconditions and to immediately release all children associated with it.” It called on both sides to the ceasefire agreement to refrain from any action that might lead to a resumption of hostilities.

BINUB was opened in January to replace the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB), the peacekeeping mission established in 2004 to help the country recover from decades of warfare.

Like neighbouring Rwanda, site of the 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists, Burundi has also been ravaged by an ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis.

Since gaining independence in 1962, it has been the victim of violent coups and political instability. The death of some 300,000 people after the first free elections took place in 1993 led to increased international involvement and the establishment of a first UN mission there three years later.