The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, ended his visit to Burundi [28/2-1/3] with an appeal to protect civilians and forge ahead with peace. The Commissioner called for an "end to the culture of impunity", emphasising that trust could be restored through holding accountable those responsible for gross human rights violations. The humanitarian community's support for peace efforts remains our best means of ensuring we avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
WFP pipeline improves
With the confirmation of a 2 million Euro contribution (ECHO) the World Food Programme (WFP) pipeline situation has improved but still remains fragile. In addition to pipeline constraints, insecurity continues to hamper WFP operations. At the end of February the situation remained volatile in different provinces, with regular reports of attacks by rebel factions on civilians and government positions.
AI scorns human rights violations
Commander Joseph Budigoma, Second in Command of the Forth Ngozi Commando Battalion, and Lieutenant Dedite Ndikuriyo, Company Commander, were released [Friday 21 February] after serving five months (sentenced to four) for failing to obey orders and lack of public solidarity, following the massacre of at least 173 civilians in Itaba Commune on 9 September 2002. Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement [Monday 24th February] "condemning in the strongest terms the failure of the Burundian justice system". "Once again it is clear that there is simply no will to hold the Burundian armed forces accountable for their actions and to bring them to justice for gross human rights violations", said Irene Khan, Secretary-General of AI.
Release of Alexandre
Alexandre Nzeyimana, approximately 12 years old at the time of his arrest in April 2002, was unconditionally released [20th February]. His release follows Amnesty International's campaign to raise the issue of "child prisoners" [27th January] highlighting Alexandre's plight.
UNHCR report [27th February] 5,511 facilitated returnees and 3,686 spontaneous returnees. The total number of returnees for 2003 is 9,197.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced [Friday 21st February] in Geneva that the temporary border sites in Rugombo and Gatumba would be closed "over the next weeks". The measure has been taken following the transfer of all Congolese refugees to the Cishemeye camp in the northwestern province of Cibitoke.
Meeting in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, the Tripartite Commission (comprising UNHCR and the governments of Burundi and Tanzania) issued a Joint-Communiqué on Wednesday 26th February. The Commission recommended the Tanzanian government carry out a census of all Burundian refuges living outside camps. "Once identified, it is recommended that UNHCR assistance be sought for voluntary repatriation". UNHCR has said the implementation would depend on the outcome of the planned transition on 1 May.
HRW: Civilians pay for faltering peace process
Human Rights Watch released [28th February] a briefing paper, "Burundi: Civilians Pay the Price of Faltering Peace Process," documenting the recent massacre of at least thirty-two and possibly more than eighty civilians by Burundian army soldiers.
ICG Report: Responsible Aid
The International Crisis Group (ICG) published [21st February] a report -- "A Framework For Responsible Aid To Burundi" urging donors to provide "concrete evidence of their commitment to the peace process". Ms Fabienne Hara, Co-Director of ICG's African Programme said "Burundi is not yet stable. The government has not implemented Arusha reforms and there is no agreement yet on security sector reforms. One rebel group is outside the process, and marginal violence is likely to continue even with a comprehensive ceasefire. But now is the time for donors to play their essential role in building peace".
Agriculture Ministry: 'Looming Food Shortage'
The Emergency Unit of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) commenced [23rd February] its seeds and tool distribution programme for 266,500 "vulnerable" households (in 17 provinces). In support, WFP will provide 170,304 vulnerable households (in eight provinces) with a Seeds Protection Ration of 20-days. Burundi's Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock said [21st February] the prospects for agricultural production were 'disastrous', citing a seed and fertiliser shortage, insecurity, rampant malaria and late rains as the led-causes of a looming food shortage.
Cholera outbreak in Rumonge
As at Sunday 2 March, the total number of cases reported since 10 February 2003 is 144 people (from clinical observations). The epidemic peaked on Tuesday 18th February, with 57 people hospitalised. A total of five (5) related deaths have been recorded. ICRC supplied 1000 pairs of surgical gloves and CORDAID provided 300 catheters. MSF-Holland undertook an evaluation mission on Thursday 20 February. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) continues to provide: clean water and disinfectant powder to Rumonge hospital; clean water to affected neighbourhoods; and distribute, soap and water treatment tablets. The IRC have also sprayed neighbourhoods and schools with disinfectant. The Provincial Doctor, Mr Eric Bigirimana, will re-evaluate the situation on Monday 3 March.
UNICEF report the number of admissions in Therapeutic Feeding Centres (TFC) has increased by 20%, while admissions to Supplementary Feeding Centres (SFC) rose 17% in the end of January 2002 compared to December 2002. UNICEF fears that ongoing insecurity may prevent children from reaching the centres, and may lead to a dramatic increase of admissions to TFCs in the coming months.
Conflict Analyst: 'Seriously worsening situation'
South African Conflict Analyst, Jan Van Eck, this month launched his latest six-page critique on Burundi: "In view of the fact that the majority of agendas being pursued presently are to a larger or lesser degree all aimed at 'removing the system' (not just the President), there exists a real danger that Burundi can on May 1 - if 'the system' does not create the necessary space to accommodate valid dissent - be faced with an unmanageable situation which could either result in an increasingly polarised Government, or a dangerous vacuum and general chaos."
As political negotiations continued fighting intensified in almost every province, notably Bujumbura Rural, Cibitoke, Bubanza, Ruyigi, and Gitega. Worryingly, FNL and CNDD-FDD increased the frequency and ferocity of their attacks on both government, military and civilian targets. Reprisals, road ambushes and mine explosions wreak havoc and pose an increasing threat to civilians and humanitarian actors. Of key concern, OCHA, WFP and UNICEF have not been able to access the Moso Region (Ruyigi Province) since January 2003.
Coup d'état not tolerated
Addressing a news conference on 2nd February to conclude his four-day visit to Burundi, Mr Aldo Ajello, Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region [Council of the European Union] warned that the international community would not tolerate another coup d'état. "Such an adventure is out of date," he said. Ambassador Ajello conceded that the Burundi peace process had reached a delicate phase with impending army reforms, which could trigger some resistance within the armed forces.
The ministers of defence from Ethiopia, South Africa and Mozambique visited Burundi (17-19 February) to discuss the planned African Peacekeeping Force (APF). By month's end, no date was announced for the deployment.
Rebel leaders return
Following the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed 25th January with the TNGoB, Mr Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye and Dr Alain Mugabarabona, the minority rebel leaders (CNDD-FDD and Palipehutu-FNL) returned to Burundi [13th February]. Approximately forty senior lieutenants accompanied them. Dr Alain Mugabarabona (Palipehutu-FNL) told a news conference in South Africa that they are returning "to implement all agreements".
AU, UN SRSG express concern
The African Union issued a communiqué [25th] appealing to Burundi's warring parties to "show restraint and a spirit of compromise with a view to preserving the gains made to complete the process of restoring peace".
The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Berhanu Dinka, issued a press release [25th] expressing concern at the releases issued by CNDD-FDD [21st February] and by UPRONA [22nd February].
Mr Yoweri Museveni, Ugandan President and Chairman [Regional Peace Initiative] convened a mini-summit in Dar-Es-Salaam [1-2 March], with Mr Buyoya (Burundi), Mr Mkapa (Tanzania), Mr Zuma (SA) and CNDD-FDD Secretary-General, Mr Hussein Radjabu. All sides reaffirmed earlier ceasefire commitments, and agreed on 'the need for a new constitution'.
The United States Embassy in Burundi released [26th] a short statement expressing their 'great disappointment', in the 'failure' of the TNGoB to punish those responsible for the Itaba massacre.
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