Burundian rebels say they are ready to defend themselves in an international court in massacre case

Friday, August 20th 2004, 8:43 am
By: News On 6

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) _ Leaders of a Burundian rebel group said Friday they were ready to defend themselves in an international court against war crimes charges after they took responsibility for the massacre of 163 refugees, their spokesman said.

The Hutu-led rebels claim the refugee camp was used to house Congolese Tutsi fighters. The spokesman for the National Liberation Force, Pasteur Habimana, continued to claim responsibility for the massacre of the Congolese Tutsis, who were living in a U.N. camp inside Burundi.

``We are not afraid of appearing in front of the International Court. We have been wanting international justice to be interested in the killings in Burundi for a long time,'' Habimana said by telephone, apparently from a base in Congo.

A decade of violence between the region's majority Hutus and minority Tutsis has wracked central Africa, including the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a continuing civil war in Burundi that started in 1993, and two invasions of Congo by Rwanda and Burundi in attempts to root out Hutu militias. The Congolese Tutsi refugees who were attacked in the Burundi camp had fled fighting in the Congo.

The Hutu-led rebels have been fighting a Burundi government dominated by minority Tutsis since 1993. But Burundian and Rwandan officials have maintained that other extremists from Rwanda and Congo took part in the attack in Gatumba, 10 miles west of Bujumbura.

Rwanda's interior minister and Burundi's defense minister have both threatened to send troop into Congo to what they call a genocide against Congolese Tutsis.

Officials from the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, said they were considering an investigation into the attack to determine if rebel leaders should face trial.

The rebels have rejected any proposal that they face trial in a Burundian or regional court.

``We are ready to appear in front of the International Court,'' Habimana said.

The World Food Program said Friday it was providing food to the wounded and other survivors of the Aug. 13 attack.

``This savage slaughter of refugees is appalling and an outrage that the whole international community condemns,'' said Foday Turay, WFP's Deputy Country Director in Burundi. ``WFP urges all parties to end violence so that security can be restored to allow humanitarian aid to reach both the Congolese refugees and other communities in need of food in Burundi.''

Undersecretary-General Jean-Marie Guehenno told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council Thursday that threats of retaliatory action could lead to renewed fighting.

``There is a real danger of violence, of a spiral of violence,'' Guehenno said. ``We do call on all actors at the moment to exert maximum restraint. This horrific massacre at Gatumba (camp) must not lead to a cycle of revenge. There has to be justice, not revenge.''