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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tanzania Closes Gate To Fleeing Rwandans

NAIROBI -- The Tanzanian army has shut the border with Burundi, turning back 17,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees fleeing ethnic violence, a senior aid official said Monday.

Seamus Dunne, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at Tanzania's Ngara camp, said the border was shut overnight after more than 14,000 Rwandan Hutus crossed into Tanzania last week.

"The Tanzanian government has said no more can come in. The refugees that tried to come over were stopped by the Tanzanian army and turned back on Sunday -- about 17,000 we estimate," he said.

Those who crossed last week said they were fleeing from attacks by Burundi's Tutsi-dominated army, which raided their camp at Mugano in the northeast on Wednesday apparently to drive out the Hutus.

The Rwandans first fled their homeland in 1994 after a Hutu genocide campaign against the Tutsi minority and the victory of a Tutsi-led rebel army which overthrew the hardline Hutu regime.

There was no comment from the Tanzanian government which has frequently complained about the heavy pressure the 700,000 refugees were already exerting on its impoverished economy.

Tanzania shut its borders to refugees for the first time last year, saying it could no longer cope. The closure was relaxed last week when it allowed 14,000 Rwandans to enter.

But Tanzanian Defense Minister Edgar Majogo said Saturday the refugees could not stay for long.

Burundi's army spokesman denied a military operation had been launched to clear the camps in the northeast.

"We have no intention of chasing these people out of the country -- why should we need to empty these camps?" Lieutenant-Colonel Longin Minani said.

But witnesses who fled from Burundi told reporters at their makeshift home in Tanzania that the army had attacked in what was a well-coordinated campaign.

Aid workers in the Burundi capital Bujumbura said the army burned huts in the Ntamba camp after refugees had fled.

"This is a message that refugees will not be allowed back," Hitoshi Mise, Burundi representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said.

The Burundi army, battling Hutu rebels who have stepped up raids across the central African nation, says Hutu civilians and Rwanda's ousted Hutu army supports them.

Until last week's mass movements there were about 120,000 Rwandan refugees in camps in northern Burundi. Many refuse to go back home, fearing reprisals for the genocide.

Burundi and Rwanda are ethnic twins, with Hutu majorities and Tutsi minorities, and have a similar history of pogroms.

Tanzania accepted more than 700,000 Rwandan Hutus in 1994 and last year closed its border to newcomers from Burundi.

The latest movement came after witnesses said the army attacked Mugano camp last week, killing 20 refugees and wounding many.

Dunne said up between 15,000-20,000 Rwandan Hutus were now caught in limbo at the closed frontier.