Burundi: Armed groups kill without mercy

The death toll in Burundi continues to rise. Armed political groups are killing defenceless men, women and children without mercy and without fear of punishment. The lives and human rights of Burundi's people are being disregarded in a ferocious struggle for power. This report details human rights abuses by armed groups since October 1995. It describes the development of armed groups in Burundi and calls on all those with influence to act to stop the bloodshed. Armed groups, largely organized along ethnic lines, have grown in size and firepower in the latest phase of Burundi's long history of political violence. They have killed tens of thousands of people from both the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi communities since October 1993, when soldiers attempted to overthrow Burundi's first elected government. Armed Hutu groups have attacked unarmed Tutsi civilians and Hutu opponents as well as government forces and Tutsi armed groups. Armed Tutsi groups, sometimes operating in open collaboration with members of the Tutsi-dominated security forces, have assaulted unarmed Hutu civilians as well as Hutu combatants. Groups from both sides have committed murder, rape and torture. Most of the victims are ordinary people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Prominent citizens have been assassinated in an apparently systematic attempt to eliminate those with leadership potential. Foreign nationals working for aid organizations or reporting developments in the country have also been attacked. Many have been killed, and humanitarian organizations have been forced to scale down or suspend operations, depriving Burundi's most vulnerable citizens of vitally needed assistance. Government officials and Tutsi leaders accuse Hutu groups of being supported by exiled former Rwandese soldiers and militia members responsible for genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Tutsi group members have apparently received training abroad, and have been strengthened by deserters from the current Rwandese army. Several hundred thousand people have been forced by the violence to leave their homes. Many Tutsi have sought the protection of the security forces in towns; many Hutu have fled to the countryside and to neighbouring countries. The civil war is spreading. In March 1996 for the first time there was fighting between government troops and armed opposition groups in southern provinces: previously conflict had been confined to the north and around the capital Bujumbura. Amnesty International is publishing this report to bring the killings by armed groups in Burundi to the attention of the international community and to appeal to armed group leaders to condemn and prevent them. The government and security forces of Burundi should lead by example. They should ensure that their forces and supporters do not commit human rights abuses and they should bring those responsible to justice. Negotiations to bring about a political settlement should be founded on human rights safeguards, ensuring that the right of both Hutu and Tutsi are fully guaranteed.

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