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Burundi Rebels Abduct Students to Fight in War

Saturday, November 10, 2001; Page A24

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, Nov. 9 -- Ethnic Hutu rebels kidnapped 250 to 300 mostly teenage boys from their boarding school today in what is believed to be a forced roundup of people to fight in their eight-year-old battle against the Tutsi-dominated army.

The rebels sprayed gunfire and set fire to the Musema school's library, living areas and director's office before leaving with all the male pupils, except four who managed to escape, said Come Hatungimana, a local government administrator.

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Policarp Ntakarutimana, 18, was one of the students who escaped. He said the rebels woke the students from their dormitory beds before dawn and took their valuables.

"They told us we had to follow them, because they too had abandoned school" to join the rebellion, he said. "Some of them I recognized because we had studied together." Ntakarutimana said there were around 400 rebels. They had not hurt the students, mostly Hutus between ages 18 and 25, but had threatened to shoot them if they tried to escape.

"We were approaching some hills when the military started shooting," he said. "The rebels were shooting back, and I used this to run away because I was afraid."

It was the second mass abduction this week. The army was already hunting for about 50 schoolboys ages 10 to 16 and several teachers who were abducted Tuesday from a primary school in Ruyigi province, 65 miles from Bujumbura.

The rebels behind both attacks are believed to be members of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy, Burundi's main Hutu rebel group.

A commander with the group confirmed that his group was responsible for today's attack.

"The students are together with us. All of them are tired," he said from an undisclosed location. "The Burundian military are attacking, killing and raping civilians."

More than 200,000 civilians have been killed since war broke out in Burundi in 1993. Fighting has intensified in the week since the installation of a new ethnic reconciliation government intended to bring peace to the central African country.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company