Burundi (June 1996)
by Humanitarian Practice Network June 1996

During the early months of 1996, the security situation improved slightly in the capital Bujumbura, but deteriorated in the countryside, complicating the UN’s plan to repatriate 1,000 Hutu refugees a day from the camps in Zaire. However, towards the end of April, conflict escalated throughout the country, forcing relief agencies to suspend many of their operations.

High levels of violence and looting continue, but more worrying are reports of students from both Tutsi and Hutu backgrounds leaving classes to join extremist militia. With the government and judicial structures in near chaos, nothing is being done to bring those who commit atrocities to justice.

In January this year, Boutros-Boutros Ghali called for UN troops to be sent to Burundi to protect aid workers, but support from the Security Council has not yet been forthcoming. However, UN Under Secretary General Goulding confirmed that, despite strong reservations from the Burundi Government, the UN was still attempting to develop a humanitarian force of about 25,000 soldiers from African countries.

Widespread insecurity and a serious incident between Hutu militia and the army led to virtually all international aid staff being evacuated in December from Ngozi in the north, and to the movement of between 12-16,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees to camps in Tanzania. A further 15,000 displaced were reported to have left Ntamba camp in late January. In early April, the Tripartite Commission on the Repatriation of Rwandan Refugees in Burundi (involving UNHCR and the Governments of Burundi and Rwanda) recommended closing the northern camp of Rukuramigabo and transferring the inhabitants to other camps in Ngozi. With more than 150,000 internally displaced people, the situation for relief agencies is grave, and aid workers fear further massive movements of people into Zaire and Tanzania.

Implementation of relief programmes have been severely constrained with main highways cut and ambushes a regular occurrence. Many roads are now closed to vehicles without military escort – on 27 March, a UN convoy was attacked and half its supplies looted. Relief agencies have been forced to evacuate particularly dangerous areas, leading to shortages of food and limited access to healthcare. More worrying, deaths from cholera have been reported.

Security incidents are also reported in central and southern parts of the country, compounding problems of crop failure due to storm damage and the ubiquitous problems of land cultivation due to mines. WFP moved staff from Gitega province after a grenade attack on staff and UN/NGO activity has all but ceased in Citiboke and Bubanza where civilians are leaving in droves. Food distribution is now down to local administration and a curfew has been imposed. Heavy fighting has displaced an estimated 80,000 persons over the past weeks in Gitega, Karuzi, Muramvya and Makamba. The Ministry of Reinsertion and Reinstallation of Displaced and Repatriated Persons convened two emergency meetings with humanitarian agencies in the first week of April to arrange for the pooling of resources to assist them.

Periodic border closures between Burundi and Zaire since December 1995 have led WFP to abandon routes to Uvira through Bujumbura forcing them to send supplies via Uvira port. As a result of the insecurity plaguing the transportation system, discussions are currently underway about stockpiling goods outside Burundi.

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