LETTER:Burundi's precarious future

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The Independent Online
From Mr Mike Whitlam

Sir: Your leading article of 23 February ("Saving Rwanda's troubled twin") rightly highlights the increasingly precarious situation in Burundi. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officially handed over a memo to the United Nations back in December calling for the international community to do everything in its power to avoid further bloodshed in this blighted region.

The Red Cross is deeply concerned that further delay in bringing about a permanent solution to the prevailing crisis will leave the door open to an escalation of violence and a resumption of hostilities in the region. I have recently returned from Goma and Rwanda and there is little doubt that, while the Red Cross movement will continue to assist people where there is a clear need, the massive relief programme we are involved in both inside Rwanda and in neighbouring countries is neither permanently sustainable nor desirable. Humanitarian assistance has attempted to alleviate the desperate plight of the population but cannot, in any way, answer the fundamental requirements of the Rwandan people.

It is vital that every effort must be made by the international community to help the Rwandan people find a political, military and economic solution which will restore a measure of stability to the Great Lakes region and allow the population to live together in safety.

Until that solution is found, however, the Red Cross is putting together contingency plans for a possible second mass exodus of people from Burundi and continues to provide assistance to 954,000 people who are already refugees in Zaire, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. Inside Rwanda, the Red Cross is contributing to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country by reuniting families, providing tools and seeds to displaced people, plus emergency food supplies, and additionally rebuilding water and sanitation facilities.

Yours sincerely,

MIKE WHITLAM

Director-General

British Red Cross

London, SW1

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