Burundi: Population forced into policy of regroupment

  • International staff: 35
  • National staff: 390 Burundi, a tiny country wedged between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Tanzania, has been trapped in civil war since 1993. Tanzanian-based peace talks, mediated by former South African President Nelson Mandela, have resulted in an agreement signed by most - but not all - of the parties involved. And those that did sign expressed reservations on the clauses covering, among other things, electoral process, transitional government, and percentage of Hutus to be integrated into the army. The peace accords have not provided solutions acceptable to all parties, on many of the major areas of contention. It remains to be seen if they will result in true peace for the people of Burundi. MSF has been present in Burundi since 1992, providing basic health care, nutrition programs, surgical services and epidemiological intervention in an effort to help the traumatized population. Insecurity has punctuated MSF's work in this country. Throughout summer and early fall 1999, there was a sharp increase in violence, culminating in the killing of two UN representatives in October. Around the same time, the government forced 350,000 civilians in Bujumbura Rural province into 50 regroupment camps around the capital, Bujumbura. After the regroupment, MSF began bringing emergency relief - medical care, clean water and latrines - to 54,000 people in three camps. But the lack of free and independent access to the camps, the lack of security, the manipulation of the population, and the strong sense that the conditions of the forced regroupment deprived people of their most basic human rights led MSF to believe that its presence was merely lending credence to the government's policy and was in opposition to the principles of the MSF charter. As a result, MSF suspended its activities in the camps in November 1999, but remained ready to intervene in the event of epidemics. The organization has since responded to two cholera outbreaks. MSF also maintains a presence in the province supporting seven health centers. The regroupment camps were finally dismantled in July and August, one of the conditions of the peace talks. MSF has several other projects in the country. In May 2000, a surgical project in Makamba had to be evacuated following attacks and looting in the town during which the MSF house was also targeted. Besides performing surgery (primarily on the war-wounded), MSF supervised five health centers, provided medicine and material to 16 others, and ran one therapeutic and five supplementary feeding centers. As of mid-summer, the team had not yet been able to return, but instead began surgical work in Rutovu, about 80km away. In Kayanza, MSF works in the city's hospital and supervises and supplies medicine for five health centers. MSF also runs therapeutic feeding centers and supports health structures in central Bujumbura. In Karusi and Cancuzo, the organization supports hospitals and clinics and also runs nutrition programs.