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Update No. 96/2 on ICRC activities in Burundi

08-05-1996 Operational Update

 Civilians targeted  

The ICRC is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Burundi and the circumstances of the civilian population which is being increasingly targeted in the fighting. Ten of the fifteen provinces in the country have been or continue to be affected by the conflict. The fate of the civilian population is all the more precarious as ethnic divisions are widening. The population is being encouraged to join ranks with the government forces or to flee to the hills and be marked as the enemy.

Particularly severe clashes in and around Cibitoke have prompted the flight of several thousand people to Zaire, which last Friday closed its border for a second time to these refugees. Massacres of civilians are occurring more frequently. In the past few weeks several hundred people have lost their lives, and since 4 April two hospitals and two health centres have been attacked. The most recent incident of this type occurred on the night of 3 May, when Roi Khaled hospital in Bujumbura was hit by a grenade and pillaged.

 Responding to needs  

Since the last update on 25 March, over 100,000 more people have been displaced. In the past seven weeks, the ICRC has provided emergency assistance for over 120,000 displaced people in accordance with their needs. In addition, it has continued with its long-term programmes of non-food assistance. This includes the provision of blankets, cooking pots, plastic sheeting and soap, which reached some 17,400 families in April alone. With these ever-increasing numb ers of displaced, a greater demand is being placed on ICRC resources.

The ICRC also recently carried out thorough visits to detainees in all 11 prisons in the country. As a result, additional delegates and medical personnel are being sent in order to reinforce the ICRC presence and strengthen the institution's impact in these places of detention.

The worsening security conditions have had an effect on the ICRC's operations, with the institution having to withdraw its delegates from Gitega on 19 April for security reasons. Work has however continued in this area and it is hoped that the delegates will soon be able to return. The ICRC is still the only humanitarian organization able to travel by road throughout the whole country. 

 Prospects for the future  

While the government remains divided on crucial issues and the international community does not seem to be able to find any new approach to deal with the situation, the ICRC fears that the present state of hostilities and government policies, such as that of arming civilians for self-defence groups, could further affect the situation. The institution has therefore once again stressed the importance of respect for international humanitarian law and the fact that civilians should not only be protected and respected in all circumstances, but also should not be drawn into the hostilities.