UN pleads for force to stop Burundi's ethnic carnage

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The Independent Online


The establishment of a military force to prevent further bloodshed in Burundi is being examined by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) today at a gathering in Addis Ababa.

Also on the agenda at the three-day foreign ministers' conference are Sudan's alleged support for terrorism and the conflicts in Somalia, Liberia and Senegal.

Plans to intervene in Burundi, devised by the UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, are already under consideration by the Security Council. Earlier proposals for the stationing of a rapid-reaction force, based in Zaire, met with opposition, particularly from the United States.

Under the Secretary General's latest proposals, an international intervention force would be placed on standby while the situation in Burundi is monitored. The troops would remain in their home countries but be ready for deployment at short notice. If the force encountered resistance from the warring factions in Burundi, it might have to be expanded to 25,000 soldiers, Mr Boutros-Ghali believes.

The US, France and Britain have refused to send troops to Burundi, although Washington has said it is prepared to help with logistics. Belgium, the former colonial power in Burundi, has also announced it will not contribute soldiers to a UN intervention force.

The main problem, however, will be persuading Burundi's government to accept foreign intervention.

The government has repeatedly rejected such solutions, arguing an acceptance of military intervention would be tantamount to capitulation. It will not accept the deployment of UN guards even to protect aid workers in the country.

Other measures being considered by the Security Council include an arms embargo and travel restrictions on leaders who encourage violence.

The UN has been accused of not doing enough to avert ethnic violence in Burundi, which has the same ethnic mix as neighbouring Rwanda. More than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu militias and soldiers in Rwanda in 1994.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in fighting in Burundi since the assassination in 1993 by Tutsi soldiers of the country's first freely elected head of state, a Hutu.

The government is a fragile coalition of Hutu and Tutsi parties but in effect the Tutsi-dominated army holds power. The capital, Bujumbura, has been "cleansed" of Hutus.

Many areas of the country have become a battleground between Tutsi soldiers and Hutu militias. The UN estimates 30 people a day die in the fighting.