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Fighting displaces 20,000

Women displaced by clashes around Kabezi, near the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, May 2008.
(Judith Basutama/IRIN)

At least 20,000 people have fled their homes near the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, after fighting between the army and rebels, officials said on 9 May.

The clashes, between the army and Forces nationales de libération (FNL) rebels, were mostly in and around Kabezi, 20km south of Bujumbura. Kabezi is a commune in the province of Bujumbura Rural, which surrounds the capital.

Emmanuel Ntunzwenabagabo, the adviser to the Kabezi administrator, said some 4,305 families had fled their homes in Kiremba, Mena, Ramba, Gitenga and parts of Mwara since 5 May.

“They returned home on 6 May but were forced out again on 7 May,” Ntunzwenabagabo said.

Fighting between the army and the FNL resumed on 17 April. Since then, the army has continued to shell FNL positions in Bujumbura Rural. The fighting occurred as the FNL, the last active movement in Burundi, announced it was resuming talks with the government, which stalled in July 2007. FNL delegates are expected in Bujumbura on 14 May.

The displaced have sought refuge at the Kabezi health centre while others are sheltering in a primary school and in the market.

Jean Nikobagize, one of the displaced, said they fled their homes without anything and were urgently in need of food and other assistance.

“When you hear gunfire, the only thing that matters is life; we left everything at home, even clothes and cooking pots," Nikobagize said. "Here, we are sleeping on the cold floor and children are dying of hunger.”

Another displaced person said she had left her goats and chicken at home and was not sure she would find them if she were to return.

“No assistance”

So far, Ntunzwenabagabo said, the displaced had not received any assistance and only those near their homes had access to food from their homes.

He said the governor of Bujumbura Rural had appealed to the ministry of national solidarity for aid and that administration officials had, on 8 May, completed the identification of the displaced and the list had been sent to the governor.

However, the spokesman for the ministry of national solidarity, Leon Ndikunkiko, said on 9 May that the ministry was still collecting the aid and was, therefore, not sure when it would be distributed.

“As long as the aid is not in the stock, it takes time," Ndikunkiko said. "We also have to go on the ground to assess the needs."

Some displaced returned to their homes on 9 May to gauge the situation, despite their reluctance, with a group of women shouting "no" when asked if they could go back home.

“They tell us to go home but they [the army] keep increasing positions; we can go back but flee again; if they withdraw the positions, we will go,” Nikobagize said.

Ntunzwenabagabo said the army had informed the public that it had suspended mopping-up operations against FNL positions in the area.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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