UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
BURUNDI: Army probes source of "UN military uniforms" in rebel hands
BUJUMBURA, 18 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - The Burundian army is investigating circumstances under which uniforms belonging to UN peacekeepers were found with fighters of the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL), the country's remaining active rebel group, Defence Minister Maj-Gen Germain Niyoyankana said on Thursday.
He told a news conference in the capital, Bujumbura, that he could not accuse the UN Mission in Burundi, known as ONUB, of collaboration with the FNL but that the seizure of the uniforms, from captured FNL rebels, was a sign of "negligence on the part of ONUB troops".
Niyoyankana was referring to the seizure of helmets and uniforms belonging to UN troops when the army captured several FNL combatants early November.
A senior FNL combatant, Aloys Nzabampema, and an aide were captured in Bujumbura on 8 November and helmets and uniforms belonging to ONUB's South African contingent seized from them. Other FNL combatants were also captured in Gihanga, in the northwestern province of Bubanza, with uniforms belonging to ONUB's Nepalese contingent.
Nzabampema, who was paraded before reporters on Thursday, said his aide got the uniforms from a Burundian working for the South African contingent.
During ONUB's weekly news conference on Thursday, ONUB spokesman Penangnini Toure said although the uniforms belonged to ONUB's South African and Nepalese soldiers, "how the uniforms got into the hands of the FNL combatants needs to be clarified".
Saying that the uniforms alone could not prove ONUB's collaboration of with the FNL, Toure said the UN had begun investigations to identify the UN personnel through which the uniforms passed to the FNL.
This was not first incident linking OUNB troops to the FNL. Niyoyankana said in July 2004, the army seized munitions made in South African from FNL combatants it had captured, "but the South African contingent denied any involvement".
The spokesman of the Burundian army, Maj Adolphe Manirakiza, told another news conference on Thursday that some mortar shells that had been lobbed on Kabezi centre in the province of Bujumbura Rural were South African-made. He claimed that after military operations, "FNL combatants often take refuge at ONUB positions".
The army's claims come as the FNL suffers what the army has termed "a serious setback", with the capture of many FNL combatants and supporters. Other FNL rebels have also surrendered to the army.
The army announced on Thursday that 114 FNL collaborators, known to be part of the Jeunesse Patriotique Hutu (JPH), had surrendered to the army at Nyabiraba in Bujumbura Rural. The collaborators were collecting funds and food for the FNL in the province.
The army also said it had captured 40 combatants at Gatumba on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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