Burundi: Military launches widespread offensive

News and Press Release
Originally published
NAIROBI, 31 January (IRIN) - For 13 days now the Burundian military has been engaged in a widespread offensive throughout Nyabitsinda, Kinyinya and Gisuru communes (Moso region in Ruyigi Province), initially in response to a rebel ambush and killing on 18 January of 10 soldiers in Gisuru.
As a result, a large number of internally displaced people - dispersed among host families or in close proximity to public structures - were affected late last week, according to international NGOs. The spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Burundi, Nicholas McGowan, told IRIN on Friday that within Ruyigi Province and Gisuru Commune about 5,000 people had gathered in Rusengo, 1,000 had sought refuge at the transit centre of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nyabitare, while an unknown number of people were dispersed throughout Gisuru.

He added that for almost a month now, access to the Moso region has been largely restricted to international humanitarian organisations, including the UN, despite the fact that the Ruyigi-Gisuru road is open to commercial transport.

Targeted food distributions by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), however, have been severely disrupted in Ruyigi Province throughout January, McGowan said. The "UN has also received reports that medical supplies in hospitals and health centres in Moso region are running dangerously low," he added.

On 20 January, the interim UN humanitarian coordinator, Stefano Severe, WFP Representative Mustapha Darboe and the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Antoine Gerard, met interior ministry officials to voice their concerns and seek assurances that the ministry and the provincial governor would redouble their efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid distributions in the strife-torn province.

A six-person OCHA-led inter-agency assessment team, comprising representatives from the UN Children's Fund, WFP, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNHCR, visited Ruyigi Province on 27 and 28 January.

Upon their return to the capital, Bujumbura, on Tuesday, Gerard voiced the UN's concern that although access had been gained to some areas, large tracts of the province remained inaccessible. "Remarkably, in the areas we visited [Rusengo and Nyabitare] there were simply no people at all," he said.

Humanitarian sources reported that on 24 January local authorities had asked displaced people to return to their hills and villages.

"Our principal concern remains for the safety and appropriateness of their return," Gerard said. "The atmosphere remains very tense, with many people too scared to move out of their local communities to seek assistance. At the moment, there is a clear sense that the local people live in fear - in fear of reprisal attacks, and in fear for their lives."

At Friday's daily security meeting in Ruyigi Province between the authorities and humanitarian community, the district military commander advised UN agencies and national and international NGOs that, yet again, they were not permitted to operate in Moso.


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