Students released by army attack on Hutu rebels

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The Independent Online

At least 175 students escaped from Hutu rebels when the Tutsi-dominated army attacked their captors in an attempt to free those kidnapped from a high school, officials said.

At least 175 students escaped from Hutu rebels when the Tutsi-dominated army attacked their captors in an attempt to free those kidnapped from a high school, officials said.

Details were scant, but at least three young men were killed by cross-fire as they ran from the rebels toward army positions, said Aloys Kabura, who witnessed the fighting.

There were conflicting reports of how many students managed to escape during the fighting near Musema, about 62 miles from Bujumbura. Come Hatungimana, the administrator of Butaganzwa district in northern Burundi, said about 185 had escaped. But Colonel Augustin Nzabampema, an army spokesman, said some 175 had sought shelter with the army. The students escaped late on Saturday or early on Sunday.

About 300, aged 18 to 25, were kidnapped on Friday from the Musema High School. Some 100 escaped earlier on Saturday when the sentries fell asleep. In a similar raid on Tuesday, rebels kidnapped 80 teenage boys from a school outside Ruyigi, 96 kilometres east of the capital, Bujumbura.

Officials have said the rebels kidnap recruits to fight for them but no rebel spokesman was available to comment yesterday. Friday's kidnappings came just over a week after the inauguration of a transitional government that is meant to pave the way for an end to Burundi's eight-year civil war.

But fighting between the rebels and army has increased since the inauguration on 1 November, triggering frustration about the transitional government.

The government, led by President Pierre Buyoya, is supposed to implement a power-sharing agreement to end the conflict, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 1993.

Burundi's peace accord calls for an ethnically balanced army and legislature, and was signed in August 2000 by Buyoya's government, the National Assembly and 17 political parties. But the rebels have refused to take part in the peace process and say their armed campaign will continue.

The Tutsi minority has in effect ruled Burundi for all but a few months since independence from Belgium in 1962. Hundreds of thousands have died in ethnic violence. (AP)

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