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Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK

World: Africa

Eyewitness: Inside Burundi's camps

The refugees are told they are in camps for their own protection

By Chris Simpson in Ruyaga camp near Bujumbura

In Burundi, the government has moved more than 250,000 civilians into specially-created camps, or regroupment sites, in the province of Bujumbura Rural in the west of the country.

The authorities say they have moved people for their own protection, keeping them away from rebel militias which have been active in the region.

Over the past few weeks, 30,000 people have been crammed into the regroupment site at Ruyaga.

A vast, tightly-packed camp stretches down the hill - a mass of modest huts and shelters, their roofs made from banana leaves or plastic sheeting.

Six dead

There is a small garrison close by, and it was in Ruyaga on Friday evening that a drunken soldier opened fire, killing at least six people.

The government has emphasized that it was an isolated incident and that the Burundian army is there to protect civilians.

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But camp residents talk angrily of being virtual prisoners, accusing the authorities of relocating them without any proper explanation, cutting off their normal lives.

The United Nations World Food Programme has been trying to get food supplies in, but security scares and conflicting signals from the local administration have kept the food trucks out so far, and current stocks are running low.

There is a modest market with fruit, vegetables and meat on sale, but it is difficult to bring produce in and there is little currency available to pay for goods.


Aid organizations like Médecins sans Frontières are trying to run vaccination campaigns and supply medicines.

Ruyaga, just a few kilometres outside Bujumbura, is at least accessible.

But aid workers warn that other regroupment sites will be much harder to reach, with long, hazardous treks into the hills.

Western Burundi is still very much at war, with almost daily attacks and skirmishes.

Not everyone shares the government's view that security will soon be restored. At Ruyaga, people seem resigned to a long period of confinement with little prospect of returning home.

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