Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Hutu rebels attack Tutsi-dominated army in capital


Fighting between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated army erupted in the capital yesterday, one day after the army claimed it had driven the insurgents out of this central African nation's capital.

The fighting broke out after the rebels of the National Liberation Forces, or FNL, attacked northern and northeastern neighborhoods of Bujumbura with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles in the early hours.

"I can hear the rebels singing gospel songs near my house and bullets flying everywhere," said a Western aid worker living in Gatoke, who did not want to be identified.

On Saturday, army spokesman Colonel Augustin Nzabampema said government soldiers had driven the insurgents out of the city following five days of fighting in which scores of people were killed.

Nzabampema made the statement as he took journalists on a tour of southern neighborhoods and showed them 50 bodies.

It was not immediately possible to contact army or rebel officials yesterday.

Fighting broke out in the capital on July 7, when the rebels attacked southern areas of Bujumbura.

A government official who did not want to be identified said 174 people -- both rebels and civilians -- have been killed in the fighting.

Scores of people have been wounded and more than 15,000 others forced to flee their homes, National Security Minister Salvator Ntihabose said Saturday.

At least 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in a nearly 10-year civil war in Burundi.

The conflict broke out in October 1993 after Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, a member of the Hutu majority.

Despite being in the minority, Tutsis have effectively controlled the nation for all but a few months since independence in 1962.

A transitional administration took office on Nov. 1, 2001, after Hutu and Tutsi political parties signed a power-sharing accord that was supposed to end the war. But the rebels did not participate in that peace process and fighting continued.

Two small rebel factions signed ceasefire agreements last October.

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