The United States Monday urged National Liberation Forces rebels in Burundi to halt attacks and negotiate with the transitional government in Bujumbura. The appeal follows a major assault on the capital by rebel forces, some of them reportedly child-soldiers.
The rebel attacks on Bujumbura, which began July 7 have produced some of the worst violence in the troubled central African country in a decade of civil war and prompted the United States Sunday to order the evacuation of non-essential diplomatic personnel.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urged the rebel National Liberation Forces to halt the attacks immediately and said reports that the group has employed child-soldiers in the offensive makes the situation all the more troubling.
"We've repeated our appeal to them to engage in negotiations with the transitional government of Burundi. We believe that their concerns must be addressed through dialogue and not through violence. I'd note as well that press reports indicate that the majority of the rebels who conducted the attack on Sunday were children aged 10-15. And while we haven't verified it yet, it would make these attacks all the more disturbing and indeed reprehensible," he said.
Unlike other armed groups in Burundi, the National Liberation Forces have refused to enter into talks on a negotiated settlement of the country's civil war, which has raged on and off for a decade and claimed some 300 thousand lives.
News reports say more than 200 people, civilians, rebels and government soldiers, have been killed in he latest outburst of fighting.
The ethnic-Hutu National Liberation Forces, the country's second largest rebel group, have spurned the three-year transitional government installed in 2001 which includes both majority Hutu and ethnic-Tutsi political figures and has rotated power between them.
Mr. Boucher reaffirmed U.S. support for the Arusha regional peace process and the Burundian transitional government, and urged all parties to renounce violence and negotiate without preconditions.
The U.S. decision to evacuate non-essential embassy personnel was announced in a travel advisory Sunday, which warned private Americans against travel to Burundi and urged American citizens already their to evaluate their personal security and consider departing because of the fighting.