BURUNDI: UN suspends Missions after staff killed [19991013]

BURUNDI: UN suspends Missions after staff killed [19991013]

BURUNDI: UN suspends missions after staff killed

NAIROBI, 13 October (IRIN) - The UN on Wednesday temporarily suspended all missions outside the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, following Tuesday's murder of nine people by rebels in the southeast province of Rutana.

According to a press statement by the OCHA office in Burundi, the incident occurred when a group of about 35 rebels attacked a team of humanitarian workers who were on an assessment mission to a site for 4,000 displaced people at Muzye, some 12 km from Rutana airport. As soon as they disembarked from their vehicles, shooting broke out and UN members of the team were made to sit against a wall where they were robbed of their belongings.

"As most of the assailants began to withdraw, one member of the group returned...and shot and killed instantly two members of the UN team," the statement said. The two were named as Luis Zuniga, the UNICEF representative in Burundi and Saskia Von Meijenfeldt, the WFP logistics officer. In the confusion, the military escort was unable to protect the delegation, the statement added.

Burundi army spokesman Colonel Longin Minani confirmed the incident to IRIN on Wednesday. He said that in addition to the two expatriates, the director of the country's Rutana-based sugar factory, the military district commander's driver and five civilians were also killed. He added that the two vehicles in which the humanitarian team were travelling were torched by the insurgents.

Minani blamed the incident on rebels of the Forces pour la defense de la democratie (FDD), assisted by Rwandan Interahamwe militia and ex-FAR members, who were hiding among the population. According to Minani, the incident was planned as the army had been carrying out mopping-up operations against the rebels in Rutana. The military were taken by surprise, he said. "As soon as the shooting broke out, people scattered in all directions." He added that military reinforcements were immediately sent to Rutana "to finish the operations".

The FDD's Brussels-based spokesman Jerome Ndiho denied the charges. "The FDD cannot do such a cannot openly attack places where there are civilians," he told the BBC's Kirundi service.

The UN has been quick to condemn the killings. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his condolences to the victims' families and insisted that the killers be brought to justice. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy spoke of a "terrible, terrible tragedy", while her WFP counterpart Catherine Bertini said the international community would have to search for new ways of operating in increasingly hostile environments "where respect for UN and humanitarian aid workers is trampled with impunity".

The bodies of the UN staffers, accompanied by UNDP Resident Representative in Burundi Kathleen Cravero-Kristoffersson who was slightly wounded in the incident, arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday.


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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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