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Thousands Displaced by Burundi Fighting - 2003-07-11

Thousands of people in Burundi's capital Bujumbura have been displaced during a week of fierce clashes, which are still going on.

Residents living on the southern outskirts of Bujumbura have been streaming into the city's center looking for safe shelter from battles between government troops and ethnic-Hutu rebel forces that have been going on since Monday.

Aid agencies report that a total of 4,000 internal refugees are now living in two locations that are being monitored by the government and humanitarian agencies. Both locations are within the relatively safe city center.

The Burundi country director for the aid agency World Vision, Maereg Tafere, says the people in these camps are being given dry rations, blankets, and access to sanitation facilities. But donor support for the camps has been, in Mr. Tafere's words, limited so that people don't become dependent on the camps.

Mr. Tafere says that although most of the fighting has been just outside the city, there have been sporadic attacks inside the town, and the violence seems to be getting closer.

"The actual fighting since Wednesday has been limited to the hillside, away from the town, not very far," he said. "I'm sitting in the center of the town but I could hear the heavy bombing, not the small arms gunshots but the heavy arms. We could hear them falling on either side."

Aid agencies say it is difficult to know the exact number of people who have been killed or injured in the fighting.

A spokesperson for the medical relief group Doctors Without Borders told VOA that a small clinic it set up on the outskirts of Bujumbura treated 200 people on Wednesday alone.

The battles involve government troops and a Hutu rebel group called the National Liberation Forces. The group refused to accept a peace deal brokered last October under which a transitional administration took power from former president Pierre Buyoya.