UN pulls out staff as fighting spreads in Burundi capital

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The Independent Online

The United Nations decided yesterday to withdraw its non-essential international staff from Bujumbura after nearly a week of fighting in the Burundian capital.

Six days of clashes between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated army have killed scores of people. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, has increased the UN's security rating for Bujumbura from phase three to phase four. The highest rating is phase five, when all UN staff are pulled out.

The fighting erupted in the capital on 7 July when rebels from the National Liberation Forces, or FNL, launched an attack on southern areas, with mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.

There was a lull in the fighting on Saturday after the army appeared to have driven the insurgents from the city, but early on Sunday the rebels attacked northern and northeastern areas, including some where UN staff lived.

There are about 100 international UN staff in Bujumbura. The heads of UN agencies will decide who leaves and who stays.

On Sunday, the US State Department ordered the departure of non-essential staff from its embassy in Burundi.

The city has been calm since Sunday's attack, but late on Monday rebels fired seven rockets into a north-eastern area, damaging two houses.

More than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the civil war broke out in October 1993. The conflict erupted after Tutsi paratroops assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, a Hutu. Despite being in the minority, Tutsis have in effect controlled the nation for all but a few months since independence in 1962.

A transitional government took office in November 2001 after Hutu and Tutsi political parties signed a power-sharing accord, but the rebels did not participate in the peace process and fighting continued. Two small rebel factions signed ceasefires in October.

Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan President, said yesterday that regional leaders would meet in neighbouring Tanzania this week to consider sending a "more robust" peace- keeping force to Burundi. The force's main mission would be to stem rebel attacks on Bujumbura, he said.