Travellers' ordeal on a Burundi highway

Mugamba- Burundi (PANA) -- Travellers using Burundi's Highway One (RN 1) linking the capital Bujumbura to the southern province of Bururi have to be prepared to spend hours waiting for a safe passage due to clashes between the Burundi army and rebel forces.
Disruption of traffic has now become a common occurrence in a country which has been ravaged by civil war for more than seven years, with daily ambushes on the main roads, large scale massacres of civilians and the burning of socio-economic infrastructure.
However, the southern province of Bururi, renowned for its hostility to the Hutu-dominated rebellion, especially in the Mugamba commune which is a Tutsi stronghold, the rebels have struck new territory, as noted by the disgruntled travellers.
"The rebels no longer limit their action to a particular area and it seems that, with their first major attack in this part of southern Burundi since the civil war broke out in 1993, they wanted to show that they can carry the fighting wherever they like and at anytime they choose," a traveller noted.
"As we left Bujumbura, I knew that rebels had carried out attacks in the region, but I did not think they could disrupt traffic so severely in a region as flat as a football pitch, where you can see them coming at a distance," the traveller added, noting that armed gangs usually operated in mountains and forests.
The same anguish could be read on the faces of farmers subjected to massive displacements due to the fighting, with their belongings, their cows, goats and sheep in an unending procession along RN 1, in search of a safe haven.
One farmer, visibly weary after his long march to survival, told PANA that Mugamba residents "have not seen such misery since the first civil war in Burundi in 1972.
" "At that time, you could keep the enemy at bay with a bamboo spear.
Now they are using modern weapons," the farmer added, as he called the other villagers' attention to the deafening noise of gunfire between rebels and government forces coming from the mountains and valleys of the Mugamba area.
Not far from there, a group of civil servants travelling from Bujumbura on a public transport bus rented to attend a wedding, stop an army truck from the area of the fighting to inquire and are allowed by the military to continue their journey after four hours of waiting for a lull.
As they speed away, all the other vehicles follow suit, happy to be continuing their weekend trip to rural areas but apprehensive of a possible rebel ambush somewhere down the road, which runs through thick forests.
In the vehicle carrying a PANA correspondent, passengers continue discussing the "rebels' daring feat" in taunting security forces and populations in a region renowned as impregnable to attacks by the main rebel movement, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), fighting against the Burundi government.
The rebels new mode of operation is also discussed by passengers, who note that collective massacres of civilians have decreased in recent months in the regions affected by rebel attacks.
"They should never have attacked civilians," one passenger says, adding that the rebellion will only gain support if its actions on the battlefield observe a minimum of rights enshrined in international conventions governing war, notably respect for human life.
Another passenger confirms the rebels' change of tactics, citing a recent attack in his native region of Gakwende, still in the Bururi province, where the attackers asked for money and left without killing anyone.
However, he noted that looting of farmers' property, burning of houses and large-scale destruction of socio-economic infrastructure in the country will not improve the rebels' image.

26 april 2001 11:00:00




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