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Society | Politics

UN fears retaliation for Burundi massacre

afrol News, 19 August - The UN's peacekeeping chief today warned those making bellicose statements in the wake of the massacre of nearly 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees in a Burundian camp last Friday to avoid the danger of spiralling violence and go back to the path of reconciliation. The governments of Burundi and Rwanda and Congolese Tutsi leaders say they consider military action in eastern Congo.

Statements made by the chief of staff of Burundi's Armed Forces (FAB), the government of Rwanda and "others envisioning retaliation could set off a chain of troop movements," Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno of the UN Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO) told journalists.

His remarks came after briefing the UN Security Council in closed session on the latest developments in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) and Burundi. In May the Security Council authorised a peacekeeping force for Burundi, known by its French acronym ONUB, with a maximum of 5,650 military personnel. The force has received just over 3,000 troops so far.

An attack on Congolese Tutsi refugees in the Gatumba transit centre in Burundi last weekend - probably by Hutu extremists based in Congo - is now causing increased tension in the entire Great Lakes region. "Gatumba must not lead to a cycle of revenge," Mr Guéhenno therefore warned. "The aim must be justice, not revenge."

The danger of violence in the region is high, he said, stressing that "all leaders [must] step away from the brink." The UN in particular is concerned that any Burundian or Rwandan troops movement within Congo could re-ignite the regional war. Alternatively, renewed rebel attacks by Congolese Tutsis on the eastern Congolese town Bunia could destabilise the region.

- In the national transitional government in Kinshasa, some people are not fully reconciled to the developments in the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-G), said Mr Guéhenno. RCD-G members have suspended their membership in the National Assembly over various disagreements, including the protection of Congo's Tutsi people.

In addition, said Mr Guéhenno, the issue of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), Hutu extremists also known as the Interahamwe that are responsible for the 1994 massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, should be resolved once and for all because they have been "motivated by an ethnic agenda that is a poison in the region." He thus referred to Rwanda's repeated calls towards Kinshasa to have these Hutu extremists disarmed.

One of the problems the UN faced in the Great Lakes region was a lack of what the military called "enabling units," he said. DPKO has said previously that it lacks the teams that provide such services as movement control, communications, terminal support, air-traffic control, aircraft loading and unloading, petroleum handling and water processing.

In other news from Burundi, the UN refugee agency UNHCR today reported it was now moving Congolese refugees further into Burundi, away from the fragile Congolese border. "We have to relocate these people - it is not safe in the area," UNHCR leader Ruud Lubbers said yesterday of the 20,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees.

On Monday, the Burundian government offered UNHCR a camp location in Giharo in the south-eastern Rutana Province, far from Gatumba, which is only 15 kilometres outside Bujumbura and near to the Congolese border town of Uvira. Gatumba camp has been closed and its 860 refugees relocated to a nearby school, UNHCR said. Some of the refugees moved to Bujumbura on their own.

Most of the Banyamulenge, or Congolese ethnic Tutsi, massacre victims were women and children shot dead and burnt in their shelters. About 100 survivors were wounded in by the bullets and grenades which rained on the camp during the night. Security has been increased in the two other transit centres at Karurama and Rugombo, UNHCR said.

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