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Burundi massacre: government authorizes camp for newly arrived Congolese refugees

Briefing notes

Burundi massacre: government authorizes camp for newly arrived Congolese refugees

17 August 2004

Following the horrific attack on the Gatumba transit centre in Burundi on Friday and the High Commissioner's urgent appeal, the Burundian government has finally authorized the setting up of a camp for newly arrived Congolese refugees.

The proposed camp site is located at Giharo in the south-eastern province of Rutana, about 120 km from the Burundi capital of Bujumbura. Work on the site will begin shortly, and we hope to begin relocating the refugees there as soon as basic services have been set up.

Zobida Hassim-Ashagrie, the deputy director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau based in Geneva, arrived in Bujumbura today to discuss with Burundian officials arrangements for the immediate transfer of the refugees to the new site and security measures for those still encamped near the border.

Yesterday, (Monday) afternoon, funeral services were held for the victims of the massacre in Gatumba, located 15 km outside Bujumbura and near the border town of Uvira in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). At least 147 refugees, mostly women and children, died on the spot in the wake of the attack. Four others succumbed to injuries in hospital, including one who died yesterday, bringing the overall death toll to 151. Medical attention is being provided to more than 100 wounded. Around 500 survivors of the massacre are staying at a nearby school and 100 have gone on their own to Bujumbura.

Gatumba sheltered 860 Congolese before the attack. It is one of three camps near the DRC border hosting 20,000 Congolese who fled fighting in the DRC's South Kivu province in June. Since their arrival, we had been urging the Burundi government to provide a secure camp well away from the volatile Burundi-DRC border for these arrivals. The area is a high-risk zone and has been under phase four of the five-stage system of security alert in the UN.

There have been various reports as to who were responsible for the attacks. It was obvious it was carried out by armed elements in Burundi and the DRC but we cannot at this time pinpoint the blame except to say that we hope the perpetrators of this massacre will be brought to justice swiftly. In the meantime, security has been increased in the two other transit centres at Karurama and Rugombo in the north-west. UN peacekeepers, working with local authorities, have also heightened security precautions on either side of the DRC-Burundi border.