320 Tutsis Killed in Attack on Displaced Persons Camp

News and Press Release
Originally published
By STEFAN LOVGREN Associated Press Writer
BUGENDANA, Burundi (AP) - Burundi observed an official day of mourning today after Hutu rebels slaughtered an estimated 320 people, mostly women and children, at a camp for Tutsis displaced in the three-year civil war.

With the stench of smoldering corpses permeating the air, stunned survivors searched the ruins for the charred remains of those massacred Saturday. Funeral services were planned for Tuesday.

Witnesses said more than 1,000 Hutus - armed with guns, machetes, spears and clubs - attacked the camp from several directions at daybreak and went on a killing spree, throwing incendiary grenades into buildings and hunting down screaming women and children.

A dozen soldiers assigned to protect the camp, about 45 miles northeast of the capital Bujumbura, were quickly defeated.

"The rebels started to kill the children and then they asked the women for money," said Joseph Ndayisenya, 44, one of the few men among camp's 1,850 people. "After they received some money, the attackers told the women it was their turn to die."

Other survivors said the assailants identified themselves as supporters of the main Hutu rebel group that has waged war on Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Burundi.

"They were singing and dancing while beating the children to death with clubs," said Capt. Renovat Nshimirimana, the local military commander.

President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, an ethnic Hutu, condemned the massacre in a national radio address Sunday night and called on people to respect the country's legitimate state organizations, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

"Those who perpetrate the massacres claim they are fighting for the restoration of democracy or rehabilitation of the Hutu ethnic group," the BBC quoted Ntibantunganya as saying.

"But who can support the idea that the elderly people, women and children targeted by the criminals constitute the real obstacle to democracy and rehabilitation of all the components of the Burundian nation without discrimination?"

More than 150 wounded were taken to nearby hospitals, where survivors recounted harrowing tales of mayhem and confusion.

Recovering from several gunshot wounds, Pascasie Nsengiyumua, 30, said her baby was shot in the head while she was nursing the child.

"I survived only because I smeared blood on my face and laid down among the dead to pretend I had been killed," she said.

Fighting between Burundi's Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels has intensified this year, particularly in Gitega province, where many camps for people displaced by the fighting have come under attack.

More than 150,000 Burundians have been killed in a grinding civil war that has ripped the tiny African nation apart. Hutus make up 85 percent of the population of 6 million and Tutsis make up 14 percent.

The attack took place near where at least 200 Hutus were reported killed by the Tutsi-dominated army in June. The army called it retaliatory.

Last month, government support for an international force to be sent to Burundi to restore peace was sharply criticized by Tutsis, who say that intervention will only destroy the military and expose Tutsis to a genocide similar to that in neighboring Rwanda two years ago.

"This is already genocide," said Melchior Bwakira, former Burundian ambassador to the U.N., standing among bleeding victims at the Gitega Hospital. "What does killing innocent children have to do with politics?"