UN chief confirms death toll as fears of Burundi genocide grow

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, urged the Security Council last night to watch closely the situation in Burundi, where violence between Hutus and Tutsis has claimed hundreds of lives in recent days. He said that while there was "no definitive figure on the people killed, the range seems to be from 200 to 500".

Mr Boutros-Ghali was speaking to representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council after Burundi's President, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, described last week's killings as "the beginning of genocide". An estimated 500 people were killed as the army, almost exclusively Tutsi, attacked Hutu areas in the capital, Bujumbura. It is feared Burundi will follow the same path as its neighbour, Rwanda. Thousands have fled the capital. Speaking on Belgian radio yesterday, Mr Ntibantunganya said: "The victims [Hutus] are ethnically targeted and the perpetrators are from another ethnic group [Tutsi] ... Burundi has to be watched very carefully to avoid catastrophe."

It is hard to see what the UN can do in a hurry to support Mr Ntibantunganya's fragile coalition government, which balances unsteadily over a cauldron of volatile ethnic politics. His two predecessors have been murdered in the past two years; many politicians in both ethnic groups have links to the armed extremist groups and know they can provoke an outbreak of killing with a word. Revenge murders have flared in the past two years but circumstances have not led to massacres on the scale of Rwanda - so far.

Burundi was ruled for its first 30 years by a Tutsi lite, although the ethnic group is only 10 to 15 per cent of the population. They maintain almost exclusive control of the army. Extremist Tutsis are trying by force to maintain their position, while some Hutus, seeing how the Tutsi army murdered their president and massacred thousands of Hutus in 1993, feel that only force can secure their political rights. There are signs that the extremist Hutu leaders driven out of Rwanda last year are linking with counterparts in Burundi and of collaboration between Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi.

Meanwhile, Robin Cook, the Labour Party's foreign-affairs spokesman, has described jail conditions in Kigali, Rwanda, where 8,000 are huddled in a prison made for 2,000, as being like the "lower decks of slave ships''. "Conditions in Kigali prison are worse than in the refugee camps in Goma and they get worse daily," Mr Cook said. Each week 1,500 people are arrested in connection with last year's massacres and hundreds are brought to Kigali prison. A week ago 20 prisoners suffocated in an overcrowded cell.

Mr Cook urged European countries to help the new government to provide the means to dispense justice. He said it was a scandal that one year after the Rwanda tragedy not a single ringleader of the genocide had been brought before the international tribunal set up to try them. "The real injustice would be if the peasants who took part in the massacres were tried and punished and the ringleaders got away scot free."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Administrator

£14400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a multi-d...

Recruitment Genius: Service, Maintenance & Installation Engineers - London

£34000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of Energy Consult...

Austen Lloyd: Planning Solicitor - Bristol

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: FIRST CLASS FIRM - A very exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner - Night Shift

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A leading Leicestershire based chilled food ma...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot