Thousands fled a predominantly Hutu neighborhood in Burundi’s capital to escape fighting between Hutu extremists and the Tutsi-dominated army, officials and diplomats there said Saturday.
Lt. Col. Nicodemus Nduhirubusa said military units clashed with the extremists about three miles north of the Kamenge neighborhood late Friday.
“There was no fighting inside Kamenge,” the army officer said in a telephone interview from Bujumbura, capital of Burundi. “But the people fled when they heard the gunfire.”
A Western diplomat who toured Kamenge on Friday said there was little military presence in the neighborhood, but that people fled because in the past they have been caught in crossfire.
Nduhirubusa and the diplomat said Bujumbura was calm Saturday and residents were trickling back.
The neighborhood is a stronghold of the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi, which has a parliamentary majority and dominates President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya’s coalition government.
Hutu extremists, who say the Tutsidominated opposition has more government power than their numbers warrant, have repeatedly clashed with the Tutsi-led military and extremist Tutsi gangs.