- Almost 160 Congolese refugees, mostly of Tutsi descent, on Friday were massacred by Hutu rebel forces in Burundi. While the UN, EU and UK have "expressed outrage" over the massacre, neighbouring Rwanda - where a 1994 Hutu genocide on Tutsis killed almost one million - claims the refugee massacre is part of a "genocidal plan".
Burundi's Hutu rebel National Liberation Forces (FNL) has claimed responsibility for the attack on the refugee camp in Gatumba, near the Congolese border. The radical Hutu group is the only rebel militia still fighting the Burundian transitional government - which is mostly composed of former rebel groups - and refuses to participate in peace negotiations.
On Friday afternoon, FNL fighters attacked the Gatumba camp, which mostly houses Congolese Banyamulenge, a people of ethnic Tutsi origin. Here, the Hutu militia attacked the unarmed refugees with guns and machetes and set fire on their tents. At least 156 refugees were killed and about 100 more people were wounded, most of them seriously.
- Most of the victims were women, children and babies of the Banyamulenge community who were shot dead and burnt in their shelters, according to ONUB, the UN's peacekeeping mission in Burundi. Burundian returnees from Congo Kinshasa (DRC), who were also in the camp, were not attacked, ONUB added.
An estimated 20,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees have taken shelter in UN camps in Burundi after fleeing Hutu militias in eastern Congo. Among the refugees, the attack at the Gatumba camp has caused great fear for their future safety in Burundi and has awoken traumas from the fighting in Congo. A memorial service, which was held in the camp yesterday, was attended by most Banyamulenge and caused strong emotions.
While Burundi's FNL rebels immediately took on responsibility for the massacre, claiming their intentions was to attack a nearby military camp, this was doubted by Burundian authorities and survivors.
Burundi's transitional President Domitien Ndayizeye on Saturday claimed the massacre had indeed been organised by Hutu extremists based in nearby eastern Congo. Here, the ex-FAR and Interahamwe armed groups - who took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide - still operate relatively freely. Most of the Banyamulenge have fled from eastern Congo to Burundi and Tanzania due to the ex-FAR and Interahamwe.
The claims by President Ndayizeye are sustained by survivors of Friday's massacre in the Gatumba camp. Several of the Banyamulenge in the camp claim that the attackers indeed did belong to the Interahamwe or even regular Congolese troops, which according to Rwanda have armed and trained the Interahamwe during the last decade.
According to information from Burundian authorities, the perpetrators crossed the border with the Congo after the attack - a further indication that they did not belong to the Burundian FLN rebel group. The Kinshasa government, following these reports from Burundi, has promised to a research mission "to assist in the investigation of the murders and the tracking down of the perpetrators."
In neighbouring Rwanda, the Tutsi massacre has caused shock and pain. Rwandan President Paul Kagame quickly condemned the massacre and said he was certain that Rwandan Hutu militia such as the Interahamwe were linked to the attack. The massacre was part of a regional "genocidal plan" against the Tutsi, according to a Rwandan government official.
While the question over the background for the massacre is still disputed, it caused immediate outrage in the international society on Saturday and Sunday. The event prompted the UN Security Council to schedule emergency talks yesterday in New York.
- ONUB strongly condemns the massacre and reminds the perpetrators ... that they will answer for their acts against humanity, the UN's peacekeeping mission said in a statement, referring to the FLN as responsible. The UN Security Council yesterday further demanded that "the perpetrators and those responsible for these crimes be brought to justice without delay."
The French government, which had called for Sunday's extraordinary UN Security Council meeting, strongly condemned "the terrible massacre" and demanded that "the committed crimes don't remain unpunished." British Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane already on Saturday expressed that the London government was "shocked by this terrible incident."
The current (Dutch) Presidency of the European Union (EU) in a statement yesterday said it had learned about the attack in Burundi "with horror and great indignation." While the EU did not automatically believe the FLN militia was behind the attack, the Presidency stressed that "the FNL needs to omit all violence and enter negotiations toward a peace treaty without further delay."
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