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Fighting in Burundi Hinders Aid to Displaced People - 2003-09-28

The World Food Program says the deteriorating security situation in Burundi is preventing the agency from distributing food to thousands of displaced people. The WFP is worried that the continued fighting could jeopardize the harvest, if the agency cannot distribute seeds to farmers.

The World Food Program says ethnic fighting in Burundi has reached a new level of violence. Over the last three weeks, it says, more than 50,000 people have fled their homes and villages.

WFP Spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said the fighting has been mainly centered around the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura, and the provinces of Bubanza and Muramvya in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

"According to testimonies, displaced people talk about repeated attacks on their villages, their houses that have been burned, their land that has been completely destroyed, burned. Most of them have fled without taking anything with them. They sleep under the sky," she said.

Ms. Berthiaume said food distribution has become haphazard because of the lack of security. She said aid workers have managed to reach about 35,000 of the newly displaced people. But, that still leaves about 15,000 homeless people who are without assistance.

She said this recent flare-up of violence comes at a crucial period for farmers, who should be working their land. "We have a very important operation, which is to - at the same time that seeds are distributed to the farmers, we give them as well food, so that they will not eat the seeds. They will plant the seeds and not eat the seeds, if they are hungry. We have this program for nearly three-quarter of a million of Burundians," she said.

Ms. Berthiaume said WFP is very concerned that the number of people requiring food assistance will increase dramatically, if the farmers are unable to plant crops for the next harvest.