Ethnic violence spreads in Burundi

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The Independent Online
Bujumbura (AFP) - Fighting between Hutu and Tutsi militias in the Burundi capital Bujumbura spread yesterday to the western suburb of Buyenzi. Hand grenades were thrown and gunfire from automatic weapons exchanged.

Since Sunday at least 30 people have been killed and tension between the two communities is at flashpoint, raising fears that Burundi may plunge into a civil war like that which left up to a million dead in its northern neighbour, Rwanda.

But life in the capital returned to a semblance of normality with only a few shops, including the central post office, remaining closed. The government had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Wednesday night after an emergency cabinet meeting, while the UN Security Council declared its support on Thursday for the disarming of the militias.

Hutu residents fled the mixed neighbourhood of Bwiza as the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi accused the army, made up mainly of Tutsis, of supporting Tutsi militias who have destroyed houses occupied by Hutus.

The front described the flight of Hutus from Bwiza as "ethnic cleansing".

The fighting comes amid political instability created by an opposition demand for the resignation of the speaker of the national assembly, Jean Minani, a Hutu accused of inciting violence against the Tutsis.

The party of the Prime Minister, Anatole Kanyenkiko, the Tutsi-dominated Union for National Progress, has threatened to leave the government - set up last October after complex political negotiations - if Mr Minani remains in office.

The prime minister's party has accused Mr Minani of having urged Hutus to kill Tutsis following the assassination by the military of the Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993 during an unsuccessful coup attempt.Some 50,000 Burundians were killed in the violence that followed.

The Organisation of African Unity, preoccupied by the "insecurity, violence, murders and massacres", decided on 14 December to prolong the mandate of its 47-officer observer mission in Burundi. Tensions are exacerbated by the presence of more than 200,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees.

The civil war in Rwanda broke out after the Hutu presidents of both countries were killed when their plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital Kigali in April. But Burundi had already experienced an upsurge of killing in October last year. Since then,despite repeated fears, Burundi has not yet followed Rwanda's example.

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