In a briefing paper entitled "Burundi: Civilians Pay the Price of Faltering Peace Process", released in New York on Friday, HRW urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio de Mello, who was expected to arrive in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, on Friday, "to encourage the new African peacekeeping force in Burundi to protect civilians".
HRW said recent attacks by government troops, and the suspension of talks between the main rebel group, the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Forces pour la defense de la democratie, and the government, were putting Burundian civilians in growing danger.
According to HRW, Burundian soldiers attacked Mwegereza hill in the eastern province of Ruyigi on 19 January. "After chasing rebel combatants from the hill, the army troops massacred civilians, including members of a Burundian church group who had gathered to pray together. Burundian soldiers also raped women from the area, burned and pillaged homes, and refused to allow people who fled to return to gather harvests and work their fields."
The organisation said a ceasefire agreement signed on 3 December 2002 was supposed to have ended military operations, "but its vague wording and lack of implementation left the way open to continuing clashes".
"Protecting civilians needs to be the top priority of the new African peacekeeping force," Alison Des Forges, the senior adviser to the Africa division of HRW, said in the briefing paper. "The international community should help to make that happen."
[The HRW report at: http://hrw.org/backgrounder/africa/burundi/burundi0203.pdf]
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