Over 100,000 flee unrest-hit Burundi: UN

GENEVA (AFP) - More than 100,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries since political violence erupted in April, the United Nations said Friday, as the country reeled from a foiled coup attempt.

UN refugee agency spokeswoman Karin de Gruijl said nearly 70,200 people had fled to Tanzania, 26,300 to Rwanda and nearly 10,000 to the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The number was more than double the figure provided by UNHCR a week ago.

The announcement came after an attempt to overthrow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza ended in failure, with coup leaders detained or being forced to go on the run, ending uncertainty over who was in charge of the small, landlocked and impoverished nation.

The country has been gripped by political crisis over Nkurunziza's controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive term in office.

More than 25 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi's ruling CNDD-FDD party - which has been accused of intimidating the opposition and arming its own militia - nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26 polls.

De Gruijl said the increased unrest in the country had sent many fleeing to neighbouring Tanzania.

"In particular in Tanzania, numbers have risen very, very sharply over the last few days," de Gruijl said, pointing to numbers from local immigration authorities saying more than 50,000 Burundians were "living rough" on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in the small village of Kagunga.

"There are also reports of at least 10,000 people waiting to cross the border into Tanzania," she said.

Living conditions in Kagunga have become "extremely dire" amid the influx, she said, decrying "very, very difficult sanitary conditions", with a lack of clean drinking water, latrines and shelter, as well as overwhelmed health services.

The Tanzanian village, surrounded by a steep mountain range, is best accessible by boat, and UNHCR said it had chartered an old ferry to help shuttle Burundian refugees on to Kigoma, from where they can be shuttled on to the Nyanrugusu refugee camp.

"The ferry is over 100 years old, and it can carry up to 600 people at a time," she said, pointing out that the whole transfer process takes as long as 10 hours, since the ferry is too large to dock and people must be taken to shore by smaller boats.

More than 18,000 refugees have been moved to the refugee camp so far, de Gruijl said.

She said refugees were also continuing to arrive in Rwanda, but at a slower pace.

"Many of the refugees are reporting that they are being stopped from leaving the country," she said.

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