Accessibility links

Aid Agencies Call for Worker Safety Measures in Burundi - 2003-07-17

A coalition of international aid agencies operating in Burundi has called for the people and the government of Burundi to take steps to ensure that aid employees can operate safely in the war-torn country.

Seven international aid agencies have issued Wednesday a statement deploring the kidnapping of three humanitarian workers in Makamba Province in southern Burundi.

The workers, who were kidnapped in two separate incidents on July 9 and 10, are employed by the German Technical Cooperation, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the International Rescue Committee. As a result of the kidnappings, the three agencies have suspended their operations in Makamba.

In their statement, the seven agencies say the kidnappings are part of a campaign of harassment that aid workers have been experiencing in Burundi. They ask the government and people to ensure the safety of their employees.

Maereg Tafere is the Burundi country director for the aid agency World Vision, one of the groups that signed the statement. He says that the kidnappings, along with a new round of violence in the capital, Bujumbura, have made working conditions exceptionally difficult for aid workers.

While it is not known what group or groups carried out last week's kidnappings, Mr. Tafere says he fears that security conditions are so poor in many parts of Burundi that there may be more attempts to seize foreign workers.

"The continued lack of security around Bujumbura and the rest of the provinces may encourage people to continue in that direction," he said. "This is really a hindrance to the humanitarian work."

The latest round of fighting, between government troops and a Hutu rebel group called the National Liberation Forces, broke out in Bujumbura on July 7.

The French news agency, AFP, citing army statistics, says more than 300 rebels and 15 government soldiers have been killed in the fighting. The number of civilian casualties is not known but is believed to be more than 200. Thousands of Bujumbura residents have been displaced by the fighting.

The rebel group refused to accept a peace deal brokered last October and continues to wage war, even after a Hutu president was installed as part of the interim government set up in November 2001.

Observers say the most recent violence in Bujumbura has been the worst in 10 years.