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Rights Group Objects to Immunity for Burundi Fighters - 2003-12-22

An international human-rights organization says Burundi's military and main rebel group should not have been granted temporary immunity for war crimes, as stated in their recent peace deal.

A scathing report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch criticizes a peace deal that the government and rebels of a faction of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy signed last month.

As part of the deal, both sides were granted temporary immunity for crimes they committed during the country's civil war, which was sparked 10 years ago when members of the Tutsi army assassinated the Hutu president.

The provision is an extension of an earlier power-sharing agreement between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Analysts have said the immunity provision encouraged soldiers and rebels to come to the negotiating table.

But Human Rights Watch says the provision is making more victims among those affected by the fighting, which is still going on between the army and the National Liberation Forces, another Hutu rebel group not a party to the peace agreement. The two rebel groups have also clashed recently.

The human rights report documents incidents from April to November in which government soldiers and rebels murdered civilians, looted their property, and raped women. According to the report, the rebels have also kidnapped children and turned them into rebel fighters.

The organization says victims are being denied justice, because the offending government soldiers and rebels are not being held responsible and accountable for their actions.

Burundi's civil war has claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.