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40 Said Dead in Burundi

October 24, 1997

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) _ Soldiers with Burundi’s mainly Tutsi army packed 40 people into a rural school earlier this week and tossed a grenade inside, killing them all, a witness said Friday.

Salvator Singirankabo, a resident of Kibezi, 20 miles south of the capital of Bujumbura, said he witnessed the killing Monday. The soldiers had come to the region to flush out Hutu rebels, who had burned 18 schools a week ago in this central African nation.

It was not possible to approach the school where the grenade was reportedly thrown because military officers said the area was mined.

Maj. Andre Niyongabo, an army commander in the district, defended the soldiers, saying people who were put in the school were ``genocidal terrorists″ who had shot at soldiers.

``If a rebel fires on security forces ... and he is with other people, our men are going to shoot back and not care who are the others with him _ whether a man or an old woman,″ Niyongabo said.

Locals said Tutsi soldiers and Hutu rebels have killed up to 190 people in the area this week.

Since October 1993, more than 150,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in the ethnic war set off when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated Burundi’s first democratically elected president, Melchoir Ndadaye, a Hutu, in October 1993.

Tutsis make up only 14 percent of Burundi’s 6 million people, while Hutus account for 85 percent.