Date: Thu, 11 Dec 97 16:58:18 CST
From: rich%pencil@VMA.CC.ND.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: War-Ravaged Burundi Flooded with Foreign Weapons
/** disarm.armstra: 1546.0 **/
War-Ravaged Burundi Flooded with Foreign Weapons
Inter Press Service, 9 December 1997
WASHINGTON, (Dec. 8) IPS - International arms dealers are flooding Burundi with weapons, despite an embargo against the war-wracked Central African nation where tens of thousands of innocent non-combatants have died in recent years, according to a new report released here today.
Although Burundi's neighbors imposed the sweeping trade embargo against the nation's military leadership last year, countries in the region are permitting their territories to be used to ship arms into the conflict, says Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based watch group, in its report 'Stoking the Fires' calls on the international community to impose an immediate arms embargo against both the Tutsi-led government and the Hutu insurgency and to deploy monitors to the region to ensure that weapons are not getting through.
It is also asking governments, whose officials or private citizens are complicit in the arms trade to Burundi, to investigate and prosecute those responsible if they are found to have violated national or international laws.
It names China, France, North Korea, Russia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) under the late President Mobutu Sese Seko as the most important suppliers of military aid, although Washington and Paris officially ended their assistance in 1996.
It also charges Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire with permitting their territories to be used as trans-shipment points for arms bound for Burundi. And it scores the United Nations Security Council for failing to act on recommendations submitted last year by its own International Commission of Inquiry (UNICOI) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
They urged the imposition of an international arms embargo against all sides in the war and the deployment of international military observers to key border checkpoints and airstrips to enforce such an embargo.
Until now, according to Joost Hiltermann, director of the Human Rights Watch Arms Project and co-author of the report, "the international community, while noting almost as a matter of bureaucratic routine the serious abuses that have occurred, has taken precious few steps to stop them."
The most current round of fighting in Burundi began four years ago after officers of the predominantly Tutsi army murdered Melchior Ndadaye, the country's first Hutu president, and much of his cabinet.
The coup triggered violence across the country in which majority Hutus attacked Tutsis and then faced revenge attacks from the military. Tens of thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands more fled to neighboring countries.
A transitional government, consisting of a coalition of Hutu and Tutsi parties, was formed in January 1994 under Cyprien Ntariyamira, a Hutu, who himself was killed in a plane crash in Rwanda, along with the president of that country.
His death launched the genocide by the Hutu-dominated army and Hutu militias against Tutsis in Rwanda, but the coalition managed to maintain its control despite the ethnic violence until July 1996, when a military coup returned former president Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, to power.
It was in this context that neighboring states, led by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, imposed a trade embargo against the regime in hopes that it would force Buyoya to negotiate a political solution with Hutu insurgents.
But little progress in that direction has since been achieved, while inter-ethnic violence has continued unabated. In the words of the new report, "the Burundian armed forces and allied Tutsi civilian militias and gangs, and Hutu guerrilla groups have killed tens of thousands of unarmed civilians, often solely because of their ethnicity, and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes."
The 105-page report finds that, despite urgent appeals by the U.N. Security Council and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), as well as the regional ad hoc coalition of neighboring states, to end the conflict, "certain members of the international community have continued blithely to supply arms or other forms of military assistance to the parties in the war; or have failed to take effective steps to interdict the arms flow.
It cites Belgium as a case in point. Despite its de facto embargo against Burundi, the government there has failed to effectively enforce a similar ban on private sales.
The port city of Ostend has been a hub for international trafficking in arms, mostly from Eastern Europe, to Burundian forces, particularly since 1996, when many traffickers reportedly moved their base of operation from Zaire.
"Arms trafficking is more prolific from Ostend now than when I was in Kinshasa," one arms trafficker is quoted as telling Human Rights Watch investigators. In addition to Belgian-based companies directly involved in the trade, gun runners from Turkenistan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Bulgaria have used Belgium-based pilots and cargo handlers to transport arms to Burundi via Belgium Zaire, South Africa, or Angola, according to the report.
France, the main source of weaponry and training for Burundi's army, last year officially suspended its military aid programme for the government and for a mainly Hutu paramilitary force, the Unit for the Security of the Institutions. This role, according to the report, has helped French mercenaries and private arms network carve out a profitable niche in the civil war.
While the South African government also appears to be respecting an arms embargo, mercenaries and private companies, many controlled by apartheid-era figures, are supplying both sides in the war, the report says.
Russian cargo planes with Russian-speaking pilots have also been delivering weapons to Bujumbura, Burundi's capital, since at least mid-1996, according to the report. "We do not know whether these operations received the Russian government's seal of approval," says Hiltermann.
China also appears to have played a major role in the arms trafficking through state-owned companies, according to the report, which bases its conclusions on interviews with port officials and others in East Africa.
The traffickers have used false shipping documents and the cover of humanitarian cargo to penetrate the regional embargo, Human Rights Watch says. It adds that "active participation" in the smuggling by members of the Tanzanian and Ugandan armies has helped the arms flow to Burundi.
Copyright 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
David Isenberg, Senior Research Analyst, Center for Defense Information