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Burundi Rebels Dispute Government Claims of Success - 2003-07-09

As fighting between government and rebel forces continues in and around the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, the government says it has pushed the rebels away from the capital. But the rebels say they are still in the city and will continue to fight.

The chief of Burundi's cabinet, Bonaventure Gashikanyi, told VOA that government troops were using helicopter gunships to push back the rebels into the hills overlooking Bujumbura.

"The situation is still now tense because there is some shelling from helicopters and the rebels are still fighting up hill," said Mr. Gashikanyi. "But for the moment the rebels have gone a bit backwards towards the hill."

Mr. Gashikanyi said the rebels lobbed about 10 rocket-propelled grenades into parts of the capital on Wednesday. He said casualty figures were not known, but other sources say 13 more people were killed Wednesday, bringing the total death toll in three days of fighting to about 43.

The fighting which broke out Monday pits the government troops against the National Liberation Forces, a rebel group that refused to sign a peace agreement reached between the government and its opponents last October.

But Mr. Gashikanyi says the Forces for the Defense of Democracy, the FDD, which signed the accord is also involved in the fighting.

"We are convinced that they are doing this action together with FDD," he said. "FDD has already signed the cease fire but it looks like they really don't want to implement this accord."

A spokesman for the National Liberation Forces, Pasteur Hakimana, denies his group is being helped by the FDD. Mr. Hakimana said the two groups are not working together, and he says his fighters have not been pushed out of Bujumbura. The rebel spokesman says the fighting will continue.

Last October's peace accord ended most of the fighting in Burundi, and made it possible for a transitional administration to take power from former president Pierre Buyoya. But the National Liberation Forces refused to accept the peace deal and have continued to wage war.