Thousands of frightened residents fled Burundi’s capital Saturday following a night of fighting between extremist Hutu militias and security forces.
A Western diplomat, who spoke by telephone from the capital, Bujumbura, told of seeing up to 8,000 people on the road heading toward Zaire. Gunfire had subsided, but the area was still tense, the envoy said on condition of anonymity.
The diplomat said those fleeing presumably were Hutus afraid of the Tutsi-dominated military.
Many fear Burundi’s ethnic violence might escalate into a genocide like that in neighboring Rwanda in which 500,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed last year.
Burundi and Rwanda shared an equal mix of 85 percent Hutus and 15 percent Tutsis.
The exodus followed sporadic fighting overnight and a failed attempt by extremist Hutus to storm a police station in Bujumbura, said Lt. Col. Nicodemus Nduhirubusa, a security adviser to the prime minister.
He said there was also some fighting between a group of extremists and the military south of the capital. He had no casualty figures.
Burundian radio said that during the night the party headquarters of President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya’s Front for Democracy in Burundi was burned down.