UN peacekeepers tighten security along Burundi-Congo border
BUJUMBURA, Aug. 17 (UNHCR) - UN peacekeepers have tightened security along the tense borders of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the wake of Friday's massacre of 151 Congolese refugees at the Gatumba transit centre in Burundi.
UN troops also deployed at two transit centres at Rugombo and Karurama in the Cibitoke province in northern Burundi, where 17,660 Congolese took refuge after a rebellion broke out in the DRC's south Kivu region in June. Peacekeepers operating on either side of the border were helping local forces step up security along their respective frontiers where various armed elements roam. The moves followed a UN security mission to Cibitoke on Monday that raised the possibility of further ethnic violence in the region, including reprisal attacks.
Zobida Hassim-Ashagrie, deputy director of UNHCR's Africa bureau based in Geneva, flew into Bujumbura Tuesday to discuss with Burundian officials arrangements for the transfer of the new Congolese arrivals to a secure camp site and security measures for those currently sheltered in transit centres.
Hassim-Ashagrie carried a letter from High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers to President Domitien Ndayizeye of Burundi reiterating the refugee agency's preparedness to work with his government to provide protection to the refugees.
On Monday, the Burundi government finally agreed to UNHCR's request to relocate the Congolese, offering a site 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 transfer of the refugees there will begin as soon as basic facilities have been set up, said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis, briefing reporters in Geneva.
Also on Monday, funeral services were held for the victims of the massacre in Gatumba, located 15 km outside Bujumbura near the DRC border town of Uvira. 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 toll of lives to 151.
Medical attention is being provided to more than 100 people injured. 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.
Since the arrival of the refugees at Gatumba and the two other centres in Cibitoke, UNHCR has expressed concern at the security situation along the border area and has been urging the Burundi government to provide a secure camp well away from the the DRC-Burundi border. The area is a high-risk zone and has been under phase four of the five-stage system of security alert in the UN. On Aug. 2, UNHCR began relocating some of the refugees in the transit centres to Gasorwe camp in the interior of northern Burundi. Gasorwe was built for 8,000 Congolese refugees who arrived years earlier.
Pagonis said there had 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," Pagonis said.