More Than Quarter of Million Refugees Flee Burundi Following Coup With AM-Burundi-Refugees
BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) _ The tide of refugees fleeing potential ethnic massacres in this tiny Central African nation swelled to a quarter million Monday as negotiations for the return of a civilian government stalled.
A western diplomat said deposed members of government and military officers who replaced them after last Thursday’s coup were deadlocked over the question of amnesty.
It was impossible to determine the extent of fighting in the countryside between members of the majority Hutu tribe and the minority Tutsis, who have long dominated the government and the army.
The capital remained calm but tense on Monday.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council condemned the coup and demanded the coup plotters allow for the immediate return of democracy. The position was supported by all council members and announced through a statement read in a meeting late Monday.
Harvey Le Guillumzis, medical coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in northern Burundi, told reporters he had seen 25 charred bodies of young men in a burned schoolhouse in central Burundi. He quoted residents as saying an additional 35 bodies had been removed.
But reporters who interviewed refugees in camps across the northern border in neighboring Rwanda said many saw no fighting and fled simply out of fear that new massacres would occur.
A series of savage massacres that took up to 200,000 lives over the past 30 years - some of the worst bloodletting ever known in Africa - is fresh in the minds of all Burundians.
Leonidas Habyalimana, Burundi’s ambassador to Rwanda, said the number of refugees fleeing his country had reached at least 250,000.
A U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman in Geneva said at least 250,000 people had fled to Rwanda and another 50,000 to Tanzania and Zaire.
″It’s incredible,″ said spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume. ″Not even at the height of the Somali crisis did we see such numbers in such a short time.″
Lt. Col. Jean Dorondangwa, a spokesman for the military, said the army would accept a small armed international force to protect Burundi’s ousted civilian leaders if they resume control.
″The army does not want to run the country,″ he said. ″We are only waiting for the government to come out of hiding.″
But Dorondangwa said military leaders were still insisting on amnesty for those involved in the coup, a position civilian officials in exile and in hiding have firmly rejected.
President Melchior Ndadaye and at least four top aides were killed in the coup that began before dawn last Thursday when the army stormed the national palace.
Ndadaye, 40, a former banker, became the country’s first freely elected leader in June. He also was the first Hutu to lead the country since independence from Belgium in 1962.
Burundi officials in Rwanda last week said the coup was masterminded by former President Jean Baptiste Bagaza and led by the army’s chief of staff Col. Jean Bikomagu. The coup leaders belong to the Tutsi tribe while Ndadaye belonged to the Hutus.
Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi and seven other high-ranking members of the ousted government, including Defense Minister Charles Ntakije, have taken refuge in the French embassy.
A western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ntakije met with a senior army officer for the first time Sunday night. However, the diplomat said, their talks brought no progress.
Meanwhile, the army began using helicopters to evacuate foreigners from the countryside at the request of their embassies.
Paul Papin, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy, said there were 29 Peace Corps volunteers and about 200 other Americans working for charitable organizations.