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Lubbers appeals to Burundi for secure facilities

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Lubbers appeals to Burundi for secure facilities

15 August 2004

15 August 2004

GENEVA/BUJUMBURA - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers today urgently appealed to the Burundian government to provide immediately a facility for newly arrived Congolese refugees away from the volatile frontier with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) following an attack on a camp that left 150 Congolese dead.

"It is imperative that Burundian authorities provide the new arrivals with a suitable camp site away from the border so that their safety and security can be assured. This is something that we have repeatedly requested from the Burundian government," Lubbers said. He said that in the meantime Burundian authorities should ensure the safety of the refugees.

Lubbers denounced Friday's assault in the strongest terms possible, saying it was an "appalling massacre of innocent civilians."

UNHCR staff reported that 147 bodies had been recovered at Gatumba transit centre in the aftermath of Friday night's assault by men armed with machetes, automatic weapons and grenades. Three others wounded subsequently died in hospital. Another 108 refugees were injured. Earlier reports put the death toll at 156.

Gatumba is located on a 30-km stretch of road midway between the Burundi capital of Bujumbura and Uvira town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is one of three transit centres set up to accommodate around 20,000 Congolese refugees who fled fighting in the DRC's south Kivu region in June.

Concerned about security in the frontier zone, the UN refugee agency had requested Burundian officials to provide a camp in the interior of Burundi for the new arrivals since June, but until the attack no suitable site had been authorized. Since August 2, however, UNHCR has been relocating some of the inhabitants of Gatumba to Gasorwe refugee camp in the north. At the time of the attack, Gatumba sheltered around 860 Congolese, mostly belonging to the Banyamulenge, or Tutsi ethnic group with roots in Rwanda.

A UNHCR team headed by Africa deputy director Zobida Hassim-Ashagrie is departing Geneva for Bujumbura on Monday to press the agency's request for a new camp site for the Congolese refugees currently at the three transit centres. The mission had been planned before Friday's attack.

UNHCR staff went on Sunday to Gatumba to attend burial ceremonies for the dead. Attending the ceremonies were Burundian vice President Alphonse-Marie Kadege and other ministers, along with Azarias Ruberwa, one of the DRC's four vice presidents, and UNHCR Representative Kaba Neyaga.

The UN refugee agency has moved 500 of the Congolese in Gatumba to a nearby school while about 100 others went to Bujumbura to find accommodation.

Gatumba has been visited on several occasions by high level officials from the DRC and Burundi, including the DRC vice president the day before the attack. The president and vice president of Burundi and other ministers went to the camp on Saturday to express their condolences to the families of the victims of the attack.