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UN remains concerned by Burundi's forced repatriation of Rwandan refugees

The head of the United Nations mission in Burundi has joined other senior UN officials expressing ongoing concern following the forced repatriation of thousands of Rwandan refugees from the central African country earlier in the week.

At her weekly press briefing, Carolyn McAskie, head of the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) said that the UN "remains highly concerned" following the decision of the governments of both Burundi and Rwanda to brand some 5,000 asylum seekers "illegal immigrants."

Rwandan asylum-seekers first arrived in Burundi in early April, citing fears of traditional local courts - "gacaca" tribunals - looking into the 1994 genocide by Hutu extremists that took the lives of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. They also cited threats of intimidation, persecution and rumours of revenge as reasons for leaving home. The refugees built makeshift shelters just inside the border in Burundi.

Burundi began deporting the Rwandan refugees from makeshift camps along its border this past Sunday and Monday, ignoring the repeated appeals for restraint - or even access to the camps - made by the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR).

Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined the agency in charging that the forced repatriation violated international law, particularly the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1974 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Both called on the two governments to give due process to the 7,000 Burundian refugees still in Rwanda, and 700 Rwandan asylum seekers still in Burundi.

Today, Ms. McAskie said that the UN is not against the efforts of the Government of Rwanda to resolve the question of impunity, which is part of the process of judging people who are connected to the 1994 genocide. She said that if both Burundi and Rwanda want an to end impunity, they must start by respecting international laws, which means abiding by the very conventions to which they agreed at the international level.