Burundi refugees suffering mass rape

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Burundian women fleeing their country's civil war are suffering multiple rapes and violence in refugee camps in neighbouring Tanzania, said observers for Human Rights Watch. In some camps, one in four women had been raped, the New York-based lobby group said, blaming local police and the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, for failing to prevent the attacks.

Burundian women fleeing their country's civil war are suffering multiple rapes and violence in refugee camps in neighbouring Tanzania, said observers for Human Rights Watch. In some camps, one in four women had been raped, the New York-based lobby group said, blaming local police and the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, for failing to prevent the attacks.

Some 380,000 Burundians, mainly from the Hutu ethnic group, are sheltering in the camps from the seven-year war between the Tutsi government and Hutu rebels that has claimed 200,000 lives.

The experts said Tanzanian men attacked women leaving the camp in search of firewood or going to the market. In one incident, 100 Tanzanian men gang-raped at least 50 Burundian women in reprisal for the death of a local teacher. "You could really see a lot of the women had been seriously traumatised, Some of them had even been hospitalised," the author of the report, Rumbi Mabuwa, said.The region has the world's highest Aids rates.

Underfunded Tanzanian police have shown little interest in bringing the rapists to trial - only 11 men were arrested - and traditional justice systems discriminate against women. The experts said wife-beating was common practice among Burundian men.

The UNHCR responded to the crisis only in May 1999 despite warnings from other aid agencies, the report said. It commended measures taken since, but said the UN body lacked a clear policy and had poor co-ordination with other agencies.

Burundi is holding its breath for peace after a deal brokered by Nelson Mandela and signed by all the political groups in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, last week. But a ceasefire remains elusive because the main rebel groups - which want to negotiate directly with the government - refused to sign the deal.

Fighting continued yesterday and a senior Burundian military commander, and at least five soldiers were killed in a rebel ambush at a coffee plantation about 10 miles from the capital, Bujumbura, military sources said.

Heavy gunfire and shelling was reported in the area, a stronghold of FNL rebels, one of two main rebel groups fighting the Tutsi-dominated Burundian army.

The army launched operations in the area two days ago and fighting with the mainly Hutu rebels appears to have intensified since the signing of the Nairobi accord.

More than 200,000 people have died in the seven-year war.

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