BURUNDI: Displaced civilians back home in Kabezi

Thursday, June 5, 2008
Thousands of civilians who fled their homes near the Burundian capital of Bujumbura in May following clashes between the army and opposition fighters have returned to their villages, a senior official announced.

"They went back because the situation has returned to normal although there are still some cases of theft," Zenon Ndaruvukanye, the governor of Bujumbura Rural province, said on 5 June. "They received aid including blankets, soap and jerry cans from the Burundi Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross."

At least 20,000 people fled fighting between the army and Forces nationales de libération (FNL) fighters in and around Kabezi, 20 km south of Bujumbura.

The FNL is Burundi's last active armed opposition group.

FNL fighters have generally held their fire since the return to Bujumbura, on 30 May, of their leader Agathon Rwasa, who had been in exile in Tanzania.

Rwasa's presence in the capital, which has been widely welcomed as a "significant" development, should speed up the country's hitherto slow peace process, aid workers said.

Most of the displaced civilians were from Kiremba, Mena, Ramba, Gitenga and parts of Mwara, close to where the fighting broke out on 7 May. Many had sought refuge at Kabezi health centre, a nearby primary school and the market.

Some of the displaced had told IRIN earlier that they would not return to their homes until the army, which was deployed against the FNL fighters, was removed.

"The military positions are still there; the ones who were refusing to go home were FNL supporters," Ndaruvukanye told IRIN.

The returning civilians, he added, had received some rice from the ministry for national solidarity. But they still needed more food aid.

The fighting followed earlier clashes in April, which the FNL carried out in violation of a September 2006 ceasefire agreement, prompting the army to shell the group's positions in Bujumbura Rural.

In a report on 30 May, Human Rights Watch criticised the Burundian government for detaining at least 300 people "solely as suspected members of a movement long opposed to the government". Many of them were civilians arrested after the FNL bombardment.

The army eventually pushed back the FNL into the hills. The FNL agreed to a new ceasefire with the government on 26 May, halting the clashes. Three days later, the police released 102 of the detainees in a "gesture of good faith from the government".

The Tanzania-based FNL leadership returned to Bujumbura to discuss implementing the 2006 ceasefire, and expects that a law guaranteeing them "provisional immunity" from arrest will be adopted when parliament eventually meets.

Welcoming their return, the European Union urged them to "pursue the peace process in a constructive manner in order that the provisions of the comprehensive ceasefire agreement and its various annexes can be fully implemented as rapidly as possible."

Should the guns remain silent, aid workers in Bujumbura said, many more of the estimated 100,000 Burundians who were displaced by conflict over the years, could return to their homes.

In Magara, Bugarama commune of Bujumbura Rural province, about 500 families have returned home following the May ceasefire, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. However, in Gitwaro, returnees found their homes looted, crops harvested and domestic animals eaten by the armed groups that had occupied the area
Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinews.org