Burundi Crams Refugees into Container Trucks

News and Press Release
Originally published
BUJUMBURA, Burundi (Reuter) - Burundi's Tutsi dominated army stepped up its expulsions of Rwandan Hutu refugees Monday and at least two refugees died of suffocation after being forced to leave in crammed container trucks, a U.N. official said.
The army accelerated its expulsion of the refugees as Burundi began a week of mourning for the latest victims of ethnic slaughter. Saturday, 300 people were massacred in an attack on a displaced person's camp in Bugendana, which is being blamed on Hutu rebels by the army and Tutsi policitians.

By Monday evening a total of 8,200 Rwandan Hutus had been trucked across the border from Burundi since the army's operation began last Friday, Paul Stromberg of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

''It is clear they (Burundi army) have redoubled their efforts today. We are bracing for an increased number of arrivals,'' Paul Stromberg, UNHCR spokesman in Rwanda, told Reuters by telephone from Kigali.

"They have lined up more trucks and buses. It is becoming a continuous movement,'' he added.

Later, he told Reuters: ''What is more frightening is the condition of the arrivals. At about 1630 (10:30 a.m. EDT) a truck arrived with two people dead of suffocation. They were an elderly man and a child of about 18 months,'' he said.

''Most of the trucks are container trucks which are meant to transport merchandise, not people.

''On arrival everyone is gasping for air, people are packed in like sardines.''

He said aid workers at the Rwanda-Burundi border also found three children inside one of the trucks with broken limbs.

Stromberg said the daily tally showed 2,750 refugees were forced out by Monday evening and another 1,000 were expected later in the night.

He denied claims by Rwandan officials that the UNHCR was a party to the forced repatriation.

''We never accepted anything of this sort,'' he said.

The brutal expulsion was apparently decreed because the army says the Rwandan refugees are abetting Burundian Hutu rebels.

The 85,000 Rwandan refugees in northern Burundi are among nearly two million Hutu refugees who fled after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

They are refusing to go home, fearing they will join nearly 80,000 Hutu prisoners suspected of taking part in the genocide.

Burundi's divided government will honor the latest victims of the ethnic civil war in a mass funeral Tuesday at Bugendana in the center of the country.

France and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) condemned the latest slaughter of civilians in Burundi, where about 150,000 minority Tutsis and majority Hutus have been killed in the past three years of ethnic civil war.

Stromberg said earlier the refugee agency had unverified reports that between three and five refugees had been killed at the Kibezi camp in Burundi where those expelled used to live.

Aid workers say up to 1,000 people are dying monthly in Burundi's ethnic violence.

Copyright =A9 1996 Reuters Limited.

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