Washington, DC - Because the crisis
in Burundi has not degenerated into a full scale massacre such as that
in Rwanda in 1994, the gravity of the present crisis has perhaps not yet
fully penetrated our minds. With an estimated 100 people dying per week,
tens of thousands of refugees still fleeing to Zaire and Tanzania, thousands
more displaced from their homes within Burundi, the situation is comparable
to an all- out, if undeclared, war.
For a while the trouble was in Bujumbura and in the north; now it has spread to other parts of the country. Rebel soldiers have stepped up attacks in the south. Military observers said there have been seven attacks on Bururi in the last two weeks of May. The central province of Gitega, according to a senior military source, is caught in "total war" following the massacre in Buhoro of 235 civilians by the army after rebels had massacred some civilians there. Another massacre, for which the army is also blamed, of 200 people occurred in Bubanza (see map).The army continues to deny the massacres but eye witnesses have testified that they occurred. Human rights groups say that both rebels and the army almost routinely kill civilians.
Bujumbura has been systematically ethnically cleansed (some call it "Tutsiville"). Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are sheltered and fed by aid groups. Rebels are now threatening Bujumbura; they say their purpose is not to attack but to get the army to talk.
The rebels, operating from Zaire, are believed to have gained ground this year. The President has criticized the army, saying guerrillas are operating with impunity both in the capital and in the interior.
The rebels appear to have access to sophisticated weapons, including land mines.
Recently three Swiss workers for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were killed in the North. Both sides are blaming the other; there was international protest at the killing of workers from a group such as ICRC.
Positions of the Different Groups
Political analysts say the Hutu are alarmed by the Tutsi-dominated army while the Tutsi are afraid of the Hutu masses. Only dialogue can bring a solution.
Militarily, there are several groups involved:
- the Tutsi-dominated army which, according to many, is the real power in Burundi and is not under the control of the government. Some also believe that the army is the main cause of the instability. (The army has been in control of Burundi for years.)
- Tutsi militia, composed of Tutsi extremists, and probably backed by the army
- CNDD (National Council for Defense and Democracy), the main rebel group operating from Zaire. It is pursuing an insurgency campaign to demand greater power. Its leader is Leonard Nyangoma, a former Minister in the government of the assassinated Pres. Melchior Ndadaye.
- other Hutu militia, composed of extremists. Politically there are:
- FRODEBU, the majority political party, mostly Hutu to which the President Sylvester Ntibantunganya, belongs and winner of the last elections.
- UPRONA, the opposition party, mainly Tutsi, to which the Prime Minister, Antoine Nduyawe belongs. The government is a fragile coalition of the two parties. Currently, the hard-liners on all sides refuse to negotiate. The rebels say they will refuse until Ndadaye's assassins are brought to trial. The Tutsi military and UPRONA refuse to negotiate with rebels they say are advocating genocide.
It is becoming more and more difficult for the President and the Prime Minister to come together. The Prime Minister has refused to negotiate with Nyangoma. The latter, although he had last month vowed to overthrow the government, is now willing to negotiate with the army which he feels is the real power. The army is not willing and the President maintains the negotiations must be with the government and not the army.
It is difficult to see how it can all be resolved and yet the only viable solution is through dialogue.
The President has recently demanded more accountability from the army; it is not certain whether they will heed the call.
The extent of outside intervention does show a great amount of concern on the part of the international community. It has yet to prove effective.
1. Julius Nyerere, former Tanzanian President and OAU envoy. Many people have put their hopes in the mediation of Nyerere; he is highly respected by the Bunrundians themselves. But the first round of talks last month ended inconclusively. Only FRODEBU and UPRONA representatives were present; CNND and other rebels were not invited.
The two parties agreed to condemn violence and criminality in Burundi and to seek the support of the international community in ending the crisis. But they could not agree on a formula of how to dismantle Hutu and Tutsi militias. Nyerere expressed regret at the decision not to invite the rebels. A second round of talks was convened on June 4. It has also ended without real agreement. It was Nyerere's opinion that UPRONA was most responsible for the impasse. UPRONA was insisting that CNDD be condemned. Nyerere warned that time is running out for Burundi. Another round of talks is planned.
The OAU renewed its observer mission to Burundi for three months; it now expires July 23. The OAU took this action to fulfill its responsibility and to support Nyerere's peace efforts. The mission. however, is strapped for funds.
Boutros Ghali has stated publicly his fears that Burundi may erupt like Rwanda. He recommended that the UN establish a standby force to intervene quickly in case of a major upsurge in violence. He said that organizing such a force is beyond UN capabilities but urged key member states to take the initiative. The U.S. has stated it is prepared to help with logistics, transport and communications but not troops.
Meanwhile UPRONA, the army, the rebels all strongly denounce the idea of UN military intervention.
4. Visits of U.S. envoys
The number of envoys sent by the U.S. in April and May to visit Burundi shows there is a high level of concern:
- Brian Atwood, head of USAID, gave the message that aid to Burundi would discontinue until there was meaningful dialogue with opposing parties. Only emergency humanitarian aid would continue. Atwood traveled with Emma Bonino, the EU representative for humanitarian relief.
- Richard Bogosian, the U.S. Special Coordinator for the region, asked the government to probe the recent massacre reports from Buhoro and Bubanza.
- John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, condemned the recent massacres and told the warring factions that the U.S. would not recognize any government that came to power in a coup.
In a statement to Congress, Shattuck said the extremists are manipulating ethnic differences for their own narrow ends. Moderates are afraid to exercise leadership and isolate extremists because of personal danger.
- Anthony Lake, National Security Advisor, and George Moose, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, paid a seven-hour visit to Burundi.
Lake warned the extremists; He said he was dismayed by the deterioration of the situation since he visited 18 months ago. In talks with the President and Prime Minister, Lake said the tension in Burundi is a major focus of U.S. foreign policy.
In a recent statement, the State Department has declared that genocide has been committed in Burundi by both sides. The U.S. is not under legal obligation to take action but because genocide is a violation of international law, cases of genocide may be taken to the UN and intervention sought. Tribunals may also be established.
Relations with Zaire
At the beginning of the year, an estimated 110,000 Burundian refugees were living in Zaire. This number has swelled in the last few months as thousands more fled to escape the recent violence. In an attempt, to stop the flow of refugees, Burundi in early May closed its side of the border.
In mid-May, the Prime Minister of Zaire, Kengo wa Dondo, visited Bujumbura. Although Zaire constantly denies that the refugee camps are havens for Hutu dissidents, it is well known that CNDD is operating from Zaire.
During the talks, Burundi and Zaire decided to reactivate a joint committee in defense and security established in '95. The committee will examine the accusations and come up with suggestions on how to resolve the matter.
While Kengo's visit is seen as an attempt to restore normal relations, observers believe it was motivated by the economic pinch Zaire is feeling from the border closure.
Schools in Burundi were affected by the border closure; Zairean teachers were stranded. Some schools had to close.
Many Hutu members of the 81-seat national assembly, fearing assassination by Tutsi extremists, live in Zaire and commute to Bujumbura for the semi-annual parliamentary sessions. (See advocacy section for action on Burundi.)
For more information, contact the Africa Faith and Justice Network, a group of people of faith working towards positive change for the peoples of Africa, at PO Box 29378, Washington DC 20017; telephone 202 832 3412; fax 202 832 9051; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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