Burundi Massacre Stirs Little Reaction Worldwide

Up to 1,200 Civilians Feared Dead

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BUJUMBURA, Burundi, SEPT. 24, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The papal nuncio in this central African nation is shocked that the massacre of possibly more than 1,000 civilians has caused little international outcry.

«I am stunned by the silence surrounding the Itaba hills massacre,» said the nuncio, Archbishop Michael Aidan Courtney. The Catholic Church and its media appear to be virtually alone in reporting the scope of the Sept. 9 killings.

Numerous civilians, the majority women and children, were killed in Itaba, in the province of Gitega in central Burundi.

«I am surprised by the international silence, although the European Union is following the matter closely,» Archbishop Courtney told the Misna missionary agency.

The Vatican diplomat indicated that the first public news of the event was given by the authorities nine days later.

The nuncio said the silence is inexplicable, «given that both the government and the army report promptly on the outcome of guerrillas’ actions, broadcasting bulletins on the war every afternoon from one or another area of the country.»

The Burundi government denied the version of events given to some news agencies by army spokesman Colonel Augustin Nzabampema. He admitted the army’s involvement in the killings.

The government Ministry of Information reported that 173 people died, specifying that the civilians died during the fighting between the army and the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) guerrillas. Burundi has 6.2 million people.

Sources consulted by Misna give another version of the events. One source close to the political realm sent the agency a list of telephone numbers of survivors and relatives of the victims.

These witnesses of the massacre give a much different picture of the events. Civil and political sources also confirmed that testimony.

According to these sources, the army’s responsibility for what happened is undeniable, and the killing took place after the guerrillas had withdrawn from the area. These sources say the real death toll could reach 1,200.

Most of the victims were killed in cold blood, witnesses said. The slaughter, they added, was in reprisal for the enormous losses suffered by the army in previous days in clashes with FDD guerrillas.

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