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U.N. Envoy Prepares for Zaire Mission; Violence Could Spill into Burundi

November 1, 1996

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The Zairian army and Tutsi rebels have to stop fighting before diplomats can help the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict, the U.N. special envoy to the region said Thursday.

Halting the hostilities must come first, said Raymond Chretien, Canada’s ambassador to the United States. ``Only then is it possible to envisage a serious tackling of the numerous humanitarian issues.″

Chretien, ambassador to Zaire from 1978 to 1981, was asked Tuesday to tackle the situation in eastern Zaire, where members of the Tutsi ethnic group are battling Zairian troops. He will begin his monthlong mission early next week.

Chretien’s job is to mediate a cease-fire and organize a regional conference to resolve the crisis.

French President Jacques Chirac has called for an urgent regional conference organized by the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity. Zaire and Rwanda have not yet agreed to attend such a meeting.

In Zaire Thursday, fighting and looting in the city of Goma prompted aid officials to halt food distribution to 700,000 refugees, and tens of thousands of refugees streamed south in a desperate search for food and safety.

Eastern Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi all share an ethnic mix of Hutus and Tutsis. Fighting between the two groups has broken out in all three countries in recent years, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said the latest violence in Zaire now threatens to spill over into Burundi, especially since tens of thousands of refugees are on the move in the region.

``There are now all the ingredients present for a ... conflict that would engulf the entire ... region,″ he said.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Burundi since a military junta led by Maj. Pierre Buyoya seized power on July 25, Boutros-Ghali said. The Tutsi-led army is fighting the Hutu-dominated rebel group known as the National Council for the Defense of Democracy.

The United Nations in recent months has received reports of ``massacres, ... forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions″ in Burundi, Boutros-Ghali said.

The secretary-general urged Burundi’s government and rebels to start negotiating immediately to end the civil war that has killed an estimated 150,000 people since 1993.

The secretary-general also asked the international community to prepare for possible action, including sending a multinational force into the country.

``I remain convinced that the worst could happen in Burundi at any moment,″ Boutros-Ghali said.

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