Burundi rebels shell capital

Burundian rebels fired a dozen shells at the capital, Bujumbura, overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday, hitting the residence of the Vatican’s ambassador, an army spokesperson said.

The attack by the National Liberation Forces (FNL)—the third in less than a week—came the day after the Burundian military bombed rebel strongholds north of the capital.

There was no immediate casualty count from the overnight shelling, but at least 33 people have died since the FNL began an offensive on April 15.

“The FNL fired around a dozen shells for three hours up to midnight on Tuesday evening from the hills overlooking Bujumbura .... we don’t yet have a toll for this new attack,” said army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Adolphe Manirakiza.

“One of the shells fell on the building of the nunciature [the office of the Holy See’s envoy to Burundi], but there were no casualties, although the building was damaged,” an anonymous Western diplomat in the capital said.

“The nuncio has already returned to his residence above the mission,” the source added.

According to military sources, the nunciature was hit by a Katyusha rocket. The FNL rebels were uncontactable on Wednesday morning.

Heavy gunfire and loud explosions were heard across the city during the night.

On Tuesday, a military plane from the Burundi air force was seen by witnesses bombing rebel hideouts in the Rukoko marshes, about 20km north of the capital.
That was in return for an FNL attack on Monday on the town of Gihanga, which left six rebels and a soldier dead.

“Both parties promised the international community on Monday to cease their hostilities ... they have not kept their word whilst the fighting seems to have hardened since then,” said the same diplomat, saying he was “disappointed”.

The rebels accuse the government of sabotaging a ceasefire, while several sources agree that the real death toll in the past week has been far higher than the 33 officially announced.

On Sunday, the United Nations postponed a planned peace mission to Burundi in the wake of the clashes, although it gave no official reason for the delay.

The high-level mission was due to have been led by Norway’s ambassador to the UN, Johan Lovald, but will now go at a later, unspecified date.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week denounced the new violence, calling for an immediate end to the fighting and for both sides to resume dialogue and conclude the peace process.

In September 2006, three years after a civil war that claimed 300 000 lives, the FNL signed a second peace deal with newly elected authorities, but it has yet to be implemented.

The Central African country is still emerging, with difficulty, from the conflict that began in 1993, mainly pitting rebels from the Hutu majority population against the Tutsi minority, which then dominated the army.

A power-sharing government was formed in 2001, while clashes were still taking place. South Africa mediated among the different sides until almost all the rebel groups agreed to a ceasefire.—Sapa-AFP

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