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Burundi Civil War

Although there are no reliable data, it is estimated that about 85 percent of the population is Hutu, and 15 percent is Tutsi. A third group, the Twa, constitutes less than one percent. These groups are usually called "ethnic groups" although they share the same culture, history and language (a language of the Bantu family, Kirundi, almost identical to the one spoken in Rwanda), and cannot be distinguished with any accuracy, even by the Burundians themselves, through physical or other characteristics. A person belongs to the same ethnic group as his or her father. Intermarriage between Hutus and Tutsis has traditionally been common.

Burundi has been engaged in a civil war marked by ethnic violence, which included fighting between the Tutsi-dominated army and armed Hutu rebel groups. The fighting caused widespread civilian casualties since the killing of democratically elected president Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993.

Burundi is poor and densely populated, with over four-fifths of the population engaged in subsistence agriculture. The small modern sector, largely based on the export of coffee and tea, has been damaged by an economic embargo imposed by neighboring states in 1996. The ongoing violence since 1993 has caused severe economic disruption and dislocation. Large numbers of internally displaced persons have been unable to produce their own food crops and largely depend on international humanitarian assistance.

The principal national problem continued to be ethnic conflict between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis. The Tutsis historically have held power and still control the military forces; they dominate educated society. Ethnic discrimination against Hutus, who constitute an estimated 85 percent of the population, affects every facet of society, but most strikingly higher education and certain branches of the Government such as the armed services and the judicial system. The President and the Tutsi-dominated army retain their dominance in decision-making and have not initiated genuine power sharing.

Since October 1993 approximately 200,000 persons had been killed in ethnic violence. Approximately 900 persons per month were killed during the first 9 months of 1998. According to an international human rights organization, the number of civilians killed during 1998 was about the same as in 1997.

President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya was overthrown in a military coup in July 1996. The coup deposed president Ntibantunganya, a Hutu, and replaced him with Major Buyoya, a Tutsi. The regime headed by self-proclaimed interim President, Major Pierre Buyoya, abrogated the 1992 Constitution and the 1994 Convention of Government. Buyoya holds power in conjunction with the Tutsi-dominated establishment forces. The regime promulgated a decree in September 1996 that replaced the Constitution during the socalled Transition Period. In April multiparty peace talks resumed in Arusha, Tanzania. On June 4, in conformity with an agreement between the Buyoya regime and the opposition-dominated National Assembly, the National Assembly adopted a Transitional Constitutional Act and a transitional political platform. The Transitional Constitutional Act supersedes the 1996 decree and the 1992 Constitution.

Travel is possible in many parts of the country. However, armed rebel activity, particularly in parts of Bubanza, Bujumbura Rural, Bururi, Cibitoke, and Makamba provinces, makes travel perilous.

Over 550,000 citizens, or 9 percent of the population, have been displaced, some for as long as 6 years. For those in the camps for internally displaced persons, some farming is possible, although only with the permission of the military authorities. Serious health, water, and malnutrition problems exist in many camps. Persons in the hills without a camp pass are considered to be rebels and were killed or wounded by government soldiers, according to a number of sources. Hutu rebels sometimes kill Hutus who remain outside the camps, according to an international human rights organization.

The rebel groups issued periodic warning statements to foreigners. With the prospect of implementation of the Lusaka ceasefire accord in neighbouring DRC, Burundian rebels - accompanied by Rwandan Interahamwe militia and ex-FAR - have been filtering back into Burundi. Unrest is reported to be creeping back in the northern provinces of Cibitoke and Bubanza, bordering DRC, while the southern and eastern provinces of Rutana, Ruyigi, Nyanza Lac and Makamba have always been volatile due to rebel infiltrations from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Burundi's relations with its neighbors have often been affected by security concerns. Hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees have at various times crossed to neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Hundreds of thousands of Burundians are in neighboring countries as a result of the ongoing civil war. Most of them, more than 340,000 since 1993, are in Tanzania. Some Burundian rebel groups have used neighboring countries as bases for insurgent activities. The 1993 embargo placed on Burundi by regional states negatively impacted its diplomatic relations with its neighbors; relations have improved since the 1999 suspesion of these sanctions.

The Government of Burundi continued the forced relocation of its citizens into regroupment camps in response to rebel attacks on civilian populations. By the end of September 1999, nearly 300,000 people in Bujumbura Rural province had been rounded up and forcibly moved into camps by the armed forces of Burundi in response to rebel attacks. These regroupment camps remain in place and others are reportedly being established. These camps are breeding grounds not only for disease and death but also for long-term resentment. Security conditions remain poor, and humanitarian workers have limited access to the camps because the workers' safety cannot be guaranteed, as evidenced by the 12 October 1999 killing of nine people on a UN mission.

In June 1998, Buyoya promulgated a transitional constitution and announced a partnership between the government and the opposition-led National Assembly.




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