Refugees Continue to Flee As UN Condemns Coup
BUILT from small trees and banana palms, the refugee camp in this southern Rwandan town of Akanage has been inundated by refugees fleeing ethnic strife in neighboring Burundi in the aftermath of an Oct. 19 military coup.
Burundi's military brass has begun to distance itself from the coup leaders, but violence between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi has prompted an estimated 250,000 people to flee into Rwanda and 50,000 more into Tanzania and Zaire, according to the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees.
The first democratically elected president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, was reportedly killed. The UN Security Council condemned the coup on Oct. 25, and demanded restoration of the government, whose ministers have taken refuge in embassies in Rwanda and Burundi.
The government and military were deadlocked over the issue of amnesty for the coup plotters, but Lt. Col. Jean Dorondangwa said Oct. 26 that the coup was a mutiny by only a handful of soldiers and urged the civilian leaders to retake control.
The Tutsi, who make up about 14 percent of the population, controlled the country since its independence in 1962, until June elections brought Ndadaye and the majority Hutu to power for the first time. But the Tutsi retained control of the military.
Most of those who crossed the Akanyaro River into Akanage are from a village called Kiremba, less than two kilometers away across a lush valley of rice and coffee plantations. They say Tutsi soldiers killed Hutu students and teachers at the school and patients in the hospital, including children in the nursery.
Miburo Nazar, a refugee here, says he returned home following the coup and hid in nearby bushes when he saw soldiers leaving his compound. His wife and three small children were dead. Another refugee, Peter Nyanziye, says both his parents were shot dead as they tried to cross the border into Rwanda.
Refugees here say there can be no reconciliation until the Army is dissolved. ``Ndadaye gave us a good example by fighting for democracy,'' says Appolinaire Simpozenkira, a representative for Ndadaye's Front for Democracy in Burundi in Kiremba. ``We will continue to fight for democracy with all our strength.''
The first priority in the camps is food. The rainy season is late in southern Rwanda and there is little extra to eat. Before the Burundi coup, a member of parliament from southern Rwanda asked President Juvenal Habyarimana to declare disaster areas to accelerate emergency food aid. Transporting large amounts of food to southern Rwanda is difficult. The country's main northern trade route with Uganda is still closed from civil war.
What food is currently available is expensive for people who left their homes often only with what they could carry on their heads, and Burundi francs are buying only half as many Rwandan francs as they did before the coup. The government planned to begin delivering food on Oct. 25.