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Scores killed in Burundi clashes

BBC News Online, Monday 7 February 2000, 18:06 GMT

More than 200 Rwandan rebels have been killed in clashes between Rwandan and Burundian rebel groups, a Burundian army spokesman said.

Until now, both groups have been allies in their fight to topple their respective governments.

The spokesman said the clashes took place in the west of Burundi and that several rebels have surrounded to the Burundian army.

The army spokesman said he believed that fighting had broken out because the Rwandan rebels feared they were losing the support of their Burundian allies.

The initial reports said 100 people had been killed in clashes between Burundian forces and the country's armed forces.

The Burundian army, which is dominated by the Tutsi minority, has been fighting several Hutu rebel groups since the beginning of the country's civil war in 1993.

In the last seven years, more than 200,000 people have died and a million have been displaced by the fighting.

According to UN figures, some 800,000 civilians have been regrouped by the army into controversial camps around Bujumbura called "protection sites" by the government.

Peace talks

Around a million people have been displaced by the fighting

News of the clashes came only days after an announcement that peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Burundi would resume on 21 February in the Tanzanian town of Arusha.

The Arusha talks began in June 1998, bringing together 18 delegations from the government, opposition parties and some rebel groups.

They have made little progress and the bloodshed continued.

Mandela talks

Former South African president Nelson Mandela met the Burundian President Pierre Buyoya on Monday ahead of the talks.

Mr Mandela was appointed chief mediator in the Burundian peace process in December.

He said the talks with President Buyoya were "very encouraging", but both sides declined to give details.

Mandela announced that he would soon meet the leader of the main armed Hutu rebel group, Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye.

Mr Ndayikengurukiye and his Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) boycotted the negotiations in Arusha.

Their absence is seen as one of the main obstacles to peace.