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Over 800 Burundians flee to Rwanda fearing new violence UN agency reports

More than 800 Burundians, mainly ethnic Tutsis, have fled to neighbouring Rwanda in the last two weeks, citing threats and fears of violence surrounding a recent referendum in the central African country that has been plagued by ethnic massacres for decades, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.“Better they die from hunger in an unknown country than die under machetes,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) quoted one mother’s explanation for sending her children into exile from Burundi, which is attempting to cement a fragile peace accord. A 15-year-old refugee told the agency a neighbour’s child had said anyone who did not flee would be killed.Both Burundi and Rwanda have long suffered from waves of ethnic violence between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, most notably in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when Hutu extremists killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates.“UNHCR is concerned that the worsening food shortage and reported rise in tensions in northern Burundi may negatively affect the return home of many Burundians,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva of the new refugees, made up of some 600 Tutsis and a group of Batwa pygmy people.He noted that UNHCR repatriated more than 90,000 exiles last year to Burundi, where a UN mission is helping to consolidate a power-sharing accord, and expects to help 150,000 more return home from Tanzania this year. There are at least 400,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, 250,000 of them in camps.The new arrivals fled Ngozi, Kirundo and Muyinga provinces in northern Burundi, a region suffering from a severe food shortage due to lack of rain and a poor harvest.A number were in very poor health and severely malnourished, but they said they did not flee from hunger but out of fear after hearing rumours of violence over last month’s referendum on a constitution, which gives Hutus 60 per cent and Tutsis 40 per cent of seats in the national assembly and paves the way for general elections later this year.

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