- Just outside the capital Bujumbura, civilians in Burundi have been killed, raped and injured in ongoing combat between government troops allied with former rebel combatants and the forces of a rebel group that remains outside the country's peace process, according to a new report. Tens of thousands of people are still victimised by the ongoing warfare.
The US-based group Human Rights Watch today released a 15-page report on continuing suffering of civilians in combat in the Burundian province Bujumbura Rural. The report documents how war crimes have been committed by all three parties in the conflict: government troops, their allied combatants from the former rebel Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) and forces from the rebel National Liberation Forces (FNL).
In November the FDD, whose forces are still led by former rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza, reached an accord with the government. But the FNL, led by Agathon Rwasa, has not yet joined the peace process - thus continuing the warfare just outside the Burundian captial.
- Everyone is applauding the progress towards peace in Burundi, but they seem to forget that just outside the capital the war continues for tens of thousands of people, said Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch.
Earlier this month, the United Nations established a peacekeeping force, the UN Operation for Burundi (ONUB), to oversee the implementation of agreements between the parties in the 10-year-old civil war. The UN force incorporates troops from the African Union peacekeeping mission already in Burundi for more than a year, and it has a mandate to protect civilians - by force if necessary.
- Just 15 kilometres south of Bujumbura, 25,000 civilians have been displaced from their homes in the rural commune of Kabezi, some of them for more than three months, according to the human rights group. "Another 25,000 have fled their homes in adjacent Mutambu commune, southeast of the capital." Displaced persons are not allowed to go to their fields and must depend on humanitarian aid; their children are not allowed to go to school.
In addition to abuses between December 2003 and April 2004 described in the report, in recent weeks all three parties to the conflict had committed further crimes in the Bujumbura Rural communes of Kabezi, Mutambu and Muhuta, where combat continues, the group says.
- On 2 May, rebel FNL forces abducted three civilians from Kabezi commune and killed one of them, whom they suspected of helping the government army, the report says. "On 29 May, government forces deliberately killed at least eight civilians, including two young children at Kimina. On 3 June, combatants from the former rebel group FDD detained five civilians from Nyambuye at an unknown location, one of them a woman accused of helping FNL rebels."
- People celebrating the peace have built a wall of silence around the suffering of rural victims just outside Bujumbura, decries Ms Des Forges. "Parties to the conflict and the UN peacekeeping mission have a responsibility to level that wall and deliver effective protection to civilians," she adds.
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