Tutsi Massacre May Re-ignite Conflicthttp://www.africana.com/newswire/homepage_article.asp?ID=976
NAIROBI, Kenya - Wielding guns and machetes, the attackers charged into a refugee camp for Congolese Tutsi, shouting threats to kill any member of that tribe they found. Scores were slain in the raid on the U.N. camp in Burundi, and the fallout from the attack could re-ignite a long-standing conflict in central Africa.
It is not entirely clear who carried out the attack, or why. But the stakes are very high in Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo, neighboring countries that all are home to members of the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, as well as other groups enmeshed in a web of mutual hostility. Ethnic conflict between them has claimed millions of lives in the past three decades.
The latest atrocity triggered a flurry of threats and accusations, and has sparked grave concerns at the United Nations.
Both Burundi and Rwanda are threatening military action against Hutu bases in Congo - their far larger neighbor to the west - to make sure such attacks blamed on Hutu marauders don't happen again.
Conflicts between Hutus, who comprise a majority in Burundi and Rwanda, and Tutsis, a minority in those two countries and in eastern Congo, have wracked this corner of Africa for more than a decade, spawning a civil war in Burundi, the 1994 Rwandan genocide and two rebellions in Congo since 1996.
Burundi's army chief, Brig. Gen. Germain Niyoyankana, on Tuesday accused Congolese tribal fighters allied to that country's government of taking part in the massacre, saying the attackers included Burundian rebels who "acted as guides, former Rwandan (Hutu) soldiers, together with part of the Congolese army."
Despite denials from the Congolese that they were involved in the attack, Niyoyankana said the Burundian army is prepared to pursue the assailants, who used Congo's territory to launch Friday's raid on the camp sheltering Congolese Tutsi refugees.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Muligande also warned that his country is prepared to act against Rwandan rebels and allied groups based in Congo. Several extremist groups have joined forces with the aim of eliminating ethnic Tutsi from the three countries, he said in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
A Burundian Hutu rebel group, the National Liberation Forces, said its fighters staged the attack, claiming that Burundian soldiers and Congolese Tutsi militiamen were hiding at the camp. Burundian officials and witnesses said the Burundian rebels were accompanied by other extremists based in Congo.
In Burundi and Rwanda, the civil wars have centered on who controls power and privilege, majority Hutus or minority Tutsis. While Tutsis are generally accepted as a minority - a relatively wealthy and, at times, powerful one - there has never been a reliable census taken in either country.
Congo's lawlessness attracted Burundi's first Hutu rebel group in 1988, when they needed bases to fight the minority Tutsi dictatorship in power at the time.
The latest round of fighting began when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the first democratically elected president, a Hutu, in 1993. More than 250,000 people from both groups have died since.
In 1994, the extremist Hutu government in Rwanda fled to Congo - then known as Zaire - after orchestrating the genocide of more than 500,000 people, most of them Tutsis.
Tutsi rebels stopped the genocide and then took over the country.
A major Tutsi clan has lived in Congo for centuries, but has been perennially threatened with ethnic cleansing since the country gained independence in 1960. Political leaders have tried to deny them Congolese citizenship in a bid to deport them to Rwanda or Burundi and to grab their valuable farm land.
An attempt to drive the Congolese Tutsis from their homes in 1996 was a factor in the Rwandan and Burundian invasion of Congo later that year. Except for a brief lull in 1997, that conflict continued until 2003.
The Congolese Tutsi refugees now in Burundi fled their homes in recent months fearing new attacks. Burundi and Rwanda said they are ready to intervene to stop what they call genocide.
The memory of the 1994 Rwandan genocide - and the United Nations' failure to intervene - is strong in both Rwanda and Burundi. Neither government trusts the United Nations or the Congolese government to disarm the extremists in Congo.
While the United Nations has peacekeepers in both Congo and Burundi, their numbers are too small to disarm the militias or stop the fighting.
And on Tuesday, the United Nations said it was breaking off talks with the Burundian rebels, quashing hopes of ending Burundi's civil war anytime soon.
Congo's Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Ondekane said Rwanda and Burundi should know from their own experience that the rebels are not easily defeated.
"These rebels are in all three countries. Invading our country isn't a solution," he said.