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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

BURUNDI: Thousands flee fresh fighting

NAIROBI, 20 January 2003 (IRIN) - Thousands of civilians have fled fresh fighting between government troops and Hutu rebels in Gitega Province, the spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burundi, Nicholas McGowan, reported.

He told IRIN that fighting continued in areas around Gitega, the second largest city after the capital, Bujumbura. McGowan said Gitega Governor Tharcisse Ntibarirarana had put the number of civilians displaced by the violence at between 15,000 and 18,000 people. The fighting began on Friday.

AFP quoted Ntibarirarana as saying that troops had set up outposts seven kilometres out of Gitega, and were shelling rebel strongholds in the hills.

"The army is avoiding fighting and is in the process of shelling the hills," AFP quoted rebel spokesman Gelase Daniel Ndabirabe, from the Force pour la defence de la democratie (FDD), as saying. "This has only affected the civilian population which is fleeing these zones."

The fighting followed government reports that Hutu rebels killed 10 Burundi soldiers in an ambush on Saturday in the eastern province of Ruyigi. The FDD attacked a vehicle carrying troops who had been wounded in earlier clashes at Nyabitsinda Commune, a local government source told AFP.

Ndabirabe confirmed the attack but said 20 government troops had been killed. He blamed the army for breaking a ceasefire on Friday.

But that same day an army spokesman said the FDD had taken up new positions in Ruyigi, in violation of the terms of the truce and that the military had taken action to drive them back.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict


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