Burundi: Attack on UNHCR camp leaves at least 156 Congolese refugees dead
14 August 2004
BUJUMBURA/GENEVA - Armed men attacked a temporary camp for Congolese refugees in Burundi Friday night, setting huts ablaze and killing at least 156 people, mostly women and children, the UN refugee agency reported.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this appalling attack on innocent civilians," said High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers.
Eyewitnesses told staff of the UN refugee agency that the attackers, armed with machetes, automatic weapons and grenades, swept into Gatumba camp at 10 p.m., torched seven of the 15 plastic hangars sheltering the refugees and killed 136 people on the spot. Twenty others among scores wounded later died in hospital.
Gatumba, located midway on a 30-km stretch of road between the Burundi capital of Bujumbura and Uvira in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is one of three transit centres hosting some 20,000 Congolese refugees who fled fighting in the DRC's south Kivu region in June. It was sheltering 1,700 Congolese at the time of the attack.
The witnesses said that a Burundian army camp 400 metres from the Gatumba refugee centre also came under attack. They said they heard the beating of drums as the attack was going on. Another facility housing 300 Burundian refugees who had recently returned from the DRC was not touched in the assault.
Burundian officials, medical workers and UNHCR staff were moving the rest of the Congolese in Gatumba to a nearby school in the area.
An investigation is being conducted into Friday's incident and it was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Burundian rebels or armed elements from the DRC.
Because of security concerns along the border region, UNHCR last week began relocating the refugees in Gatumba and the two other transit centres at Rugombo and Karurama to Gasorwe camp farther inside Burundi. But Gasorwe is already crammed with 8,000 Congolese who had been in Burundi for a number of years. UNHCR has been negotiating with the Burundi authorities for a facility away from the border since the Congolese began arriving in June.
A UNHCR team from its headquarters in Geneva, headed by Africa bureau Director Zobida Hassim-Ashagrie, is scheduled to proceed to Bujumbura on Monday to try and speed up the relocation process.