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UNICEF Concerned About Burundi Fighting - 2003-07-12

The United Nations children's fund says heavy fighting in Burundi, especially around the capital, has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. UNICEF says it is trying to help the many newly displaced people in the capital, Bujumbura.

International aid agencies say they fear this latest round of fighting in Burundi could mean the end of the country's fragile peace process.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz says, until now, Bujumbura has been relatively spared from the ethnic fighting which resumed in 1993. He says parts of the capital are now being targeted by rebel Hutu forces.

"The peace process is, therefore, in great trouble," he said. "Some people say it is already dead. We have a tendency to always think that the peace process is safe, or is ongoing, provided that the capital city is not under a lot of fighting. So, if you have a peace process, which is only relevant for the capital city, it does not really make sense."

The United Nations estimates about 300,000 people have died since the outbreak of the conflict in 1993, and hundreds of thousands of others have become internally displaced.

The United Nations says nearly 200 civilians have been killed in the current flare up of fighting in Bujumbura. About 45,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Mr. Personnaz says the population of the city's biggest camp for displaced people has more than tripled since fighting broke out six days ago.

"There is a lack of everything," he said. "There is no food. There is no shelter. There is no blankets. There is no proper sanitation. There is basically nothing, and these people are scared. They lost what they had. They are really scared to death to come back to their homes."

Mr. Personnaz says there are four camps for internally displaced people in Bujumbura. He says UNICEF and other aid agencies are distributing high protein biscuits, blankets, soap, medicines and other relief supplies.