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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 22:27 GMT
Uncertainty over Burundi camps pledge

Karago camp Many have fled Burundi to refugee camps in Tanzania

Confusion surrounds the Burundian Government's promise to close 10 of its controversial "regroupment" camps.

The closure was announced on Wednesday at the United Nations in New York by Foreign Minister Severin Ntahomvukiye.

The move came after the camps had been harshly criticised by the former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

But Major Balthazar Ntamahungiro, governor of Bujumbura-Rural - the province which surrounds the capital - told the BBC that camps in his province would not be closed until security had been restored.

And yet it is these camps, set up since mid-September, which were apparently condemned by Mr Mandela.

Burundi refugees The region faces a refugee crisis

The government says the camps in Bujumbura-Rural were put in place following a request from local inhabitants whose property was regularly looted by the rebels.

The state news agency ABP quoted sources in the government as saying that it would start to dismantle protection camps in 15 days' time if conditions permitted.

UN officials in Bujumbura, who provide aid to some of the inmates, said they knew of 59 camps in the province, housing an estimated 330,000 civilians.

Information Minister Luc Rukingama said he had no details about the camps or the closure policy.

Needless suffering

The Tutsi-dominated Burundian army has put more than 300,000 civilians, mostly Hutus, into the camps as part of its attempt to isolate rebel fighters.

The rebels say it was to stop them getting civilian help.

Karago camp An estimated 1,000 Burundians a day are crossing to camps in Tanzania
A senior government official told the UN and other critics that they had no understanding of the type of war being fought in Burundi.

He said the camps had been established at the request of the Burundi people, who had sought protection from Hutu rebel groups.

But many aid workers feel the camps have caused a lot of needless suffering and remain sceptical about Burundi's real agenda.

International aid agencies are struggling to cope with the estimated 1,000 Burundians crossing the border into Tanzania every day.

Refugees accuse both government troops and rebels of burning villages in Burundi.


Rebels opened fire on an armoured car carrying aid workers and burnt out a second vehicle on a main lakeside road south of Bujumbura, humanitarian staff said on Thursday.

Between 20 and 30 rebels laid a tree across the road near Magara, around 35km (20 miles) from the capital on Wednesday and shot at the vehicle belonging to Catholic Relief Services (CRS), forcing the driver to reverse for 2km to escape.

"Nineteen bullets hit the car," said David Rothrock, CRS's Burundi director. "If it had not been an armoured car, they would probably all have been killed."

On the same day, a rebel attack north-east of Bujumbura left four people - including one Hutu rebel - dead, according to a government official.

Vincent Harushimana, an adviser to the governor of Muramvya Province, said the attack on Bukeye, 55 km (34 miles) north-east of Bujumbural, was carried out on Wednesday by the rebels who came from nearby Kibira National Forest.

The other three dead were identified as civilians.

He said the attack, repelled by government soldiers, signalled the growing presence of Hutu rebels in the region as well as the complicity with rebel activity of Hutu peasants, who make up more than 80% of Burundi's population.

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See also:
20 Jan 00 |  Africa
Burundi pledges to close 10 camps
16 Jan 00 |  Africa
Mandela slams Burundi's 'failed' leaders
03 Nov 99 |  Africa
Burundi's deadly deadlock
13 Oct 99 |  Africa
Eyewitness: Inside Burundi's camps
13 Nov 99 |  Africa
UN alarmed over Burundi camps
07 Jan 00 |  Africa
Burundi army blamed for massacre
01 Dec 99 |  Africa
Mandela to head Burundi peace drive

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