Rwanda: Refugee Politics


January 13, 2007: The Rwandan government is now paying much closer attention to events in Burundi. Burundi and Rwanda are very similar in demographics – a majority Hutu population with a comparatively wealthy Tutsi minority. While this may seem like now news –a country should always pay attention to events next door – the Rwandan government actually has the 1994 genocide as a riveting reason to pay attention to Burundi. In 1992 fighting between Hutus and Tutsis escalated in Burundi. Atrocities committed by Burundian Tutsi security forces against Burundian Hutus inflamed Hutus in Rwanda. Of course there were attacks by Burundian Hutus on Tutsis. The point is inter-tribal violence fed tribal passions next door. The increase in violence in Burundi is thus especially worrisome to Rwanda. There are some differences of course between 2008 and 1994. There are still peacekeepers in Burundi; the small peacekeeping force in Burundi operates under the auspices of the African Union.

January 9, 2008: The Burundian Army said that three of its soldiers were wounded in a firefight with a group of Palipehutu-FNL rebels. Five FNL rebels were killed in the battle. An FNL spokesman said the government story was false. The FNL fighters were "looking for food" when they were attacked by soldiers. Both the government and FNL agreed that the firefight took place near the town of Musigati. As with so many of these incidents in Africa, the wire services and internet rely on the statements of the government and then the rebel groups. The best check on both of these clearly self-interested sources is information gleaned from NGOs. While these groups often have agendas and slants, the best NGO sources rely on reports from relief personnel on the scene and refugees. Those, too, can be confused, but at least it is another side of the story.

January 5, 2008: Last year, about 40,000 Burundian refugees returned from camps in Tanzania, and all those camps (housing 110,000 Burundians and 100,000 Congolese) are expected to be closed this year. Meanwhile, at least 10,000 Congolese have fled to Burundi. There, they are fed and housed by foreign aid groups, which also provide food aid to over 60,000 Burundians. Many of those receiving aid are returning refugees. In the last six years, nearly 400,000 Burundians have returned from refugee camps in neighboring countries.

January 1, 2008: In Burundi, a French relief worker was murdered and a second wounded in an attack by a gunman. The attack took place in Ruyigi (east of Bujumbura). Direct attacks on aid workers such as this are rare. But robbery isn't rare. Concern is rising throughout Burundi about increased violence. The government has attributed the rise in violence to Palipehutu-FNL faction that has quit the peace process (the JVMM The Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism in Burundi). Whatever the reason for the attack on the air workers, the murder sows fear among NGOs. Impoverished Burundi is especially dependent on medical aid NGOs.

December 23, 2007: A second company of 100 Burundian Army soldiers deployed to Somalia. That makes 200 Burundian soldiers either in Somalia or enroute. Burundi has said it will eventually send 1700 soldiers to Somalia.




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