UN Behind On Burundi Plan

News and Press Release
Originally published
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite continued large-scale ethnic violence in Burundi, the United Nations has yet to come up with an effective plan should an intervention force be required, an administration official said Thursday.

''I believe the international community is many months behind where it ought to be,'' the official said, briefing reporters on the condition he not be identified.

The official's comments reinforced a report issued this week by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who said only three countries have offered to volunteer soldiers for a possible intervention force.

Boutros-Ghali recommended that a force of 50,000 be assembled to prevent violence and provide relief assistance. Among the countries refusing to dispatch troops is the United States, which has said its contribution will be limited to logistics, communication and transport.

The U.S. official, who monitors events in Burundi closely, said fear and insecurity pervade the country, where an estimated 150,000 have died in tribal violence since 1993.

''I don't think I ever remember seeing a society which is as deeply polarized as Burundian society,'' the official said. He added that the country has ''extraordinary genocidal potential.''

Amnesty International reported Thursday that since a July 25 coup led by the Tutsi-dominated military, 6,000 people have died, mostly unarmed civilians. The country's leader, Maj. Pierre Buyoya, took power promising to end the killings. Tutsis comprise 15 per cent of the population and Hutus most of the remainder.

Tensions in Burundi have been heightened by the 1994 massacre in neighboring Rwanda, where the Hutu-Tutsi breakdown is virtually identical to that of Burundi. The massacre claimed the lives of an estimated 500,000 Rwandans -- overwhelmingly Tutsi -- during a six-week period.

The U.S. official said the United States is supporting a regional African effort aimed at achieving an all-party peace negotiation as well as a more equitable power distribution in the country.

The U.S. decision to play a limited role in resolving the Burundi crisis has drawn criticism from many Africa experts.

Randall Robinson, head of TransAfrica, said, ''We need a U.N. peacekeeping force in place to avert what certainly will be an enormous disaster. It is not apparent to me that the State Department is moving with the speed that this developing crisis warrants.''

=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press