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Refugees Tell of Massacres in Burundi

August 22, 1988|From Reuters

BUTARE, Rwanda — Refugees fleeing tribal massacres in Burundi on Sunday gave gruesome accounts of the slaughter and suggested that thousands have been killed.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that at least 30,000 people have fled across the border into Rwanda.

"Those who fled may be less numerous than those who died," survivor Antoine Mpabonimana said. She said three of her children were bayoneted to death by troops who took part in the killings.

Refugee Angele Barbaranburu described how soldiers made her and nine children, aged 1 to 15, lie down outside their home before bayoneting all of them in the neck. She said from her hospital bed that she was left for dead but managed to escape across the border.

No one knows for certain how many died in the fighting between the politically dominant Tutsi tribe and their Hutu rivals, who form 85% of Burundi's 5 million population but are effectively excluded from political power and the army.

But people on the border said they have lost count of the stream of battered bodies floating down the Akanyaru River.

The mayor of this border town, Frederic Karangwa, said refugees, most of them Hutu, were still arriving at the rate of 5,000 a day.

Reports from the Burundian capital of Bjumbura on Friday said that order had been restored, but Burundian officials here to discuss the refugee problem with Rwandan counterparts declined to comment on the situation in Marangara and Ntega communes, where the massacres began more than a week ago.

According to refugees and Rwandan border troops, the killings began Aug. 14 when a former soldier, a Tutsi, shot and killed at least two Hutu in Ntega. The killer was lynched by a Hutu mob.

In the next two days of tribal violence, an estimated 1,000 people were killed, Code Cisse, the U.N.'s representative in Rwanda, said.

The Burundian army sent reinforcements into the area Wednesday and began a wave of revenge killings against the Hutu, refugees said.

The Tutsi, a tribe of tall, warlike cattle herders, have dominated the smaller Hutu farmers at the northern end of Lake Tanganyika since pre-colonial times. Rwanda has a similar tribal makeup, but the Hutu overthrew Tutsi dominance at the end of Belgian rule.

At least 100,000 Hutu were killed in Burundi in 1972 in what a U.S. congressional report described as "government-sanctioned massacres."

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