Burundi July01

Mr President, Hutus of Bantu origin form the majority tribe in Burundi with a population of 6 million. The Tutsis of Nilotic origin are the minority tribe, but they dominate the government and the army. Such tribal polarisation as we often see in Africa has been a major factor in the internal conflict, not only in Burundi but in neighbouring states.

In 1993 Burundi's Hutu President was assassinated and within a month over 100,000 civilians were killed. A further 150,000 have been killed since then. More than half a million are refugees in Tanzania's refugee camps to this day. The Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced similar conflict and almost 2 million civilians have been killed there or are missing over the last two to three years. In the Horn, East and Central Africa covering 12 countries, there are 20 million displaced persons, displaced from their homes and their villages.

These people were poor before. They are even poorer today. They have no education, no access to health care, no employment and no shelter. They depend totally on the World Food Programme for their food and they fear those who run the refugee camps where they live. It is not surprising, therefore, that these refugee camps are breeding grounds for disease, discontent and disorder. Young men and women are lured by the warlords to join their unruly gangs. These innocent and desperate people, who were ordinary civilians before, probably farmers, are easily persuaded to train and be armed to support the greed and power struggle of the warlords. The Lusaka and Arusha peace accords have failed to end the violence and internal conflict. Repatriation of refugees is not satisfactory as the people are simply afraid to return to villages devastated, overrun and terrorised by the terrorists or the warlords.

How can we allow these displaced millions, these desperate refugees, to live in camps as beggars for life? How can we extinguish the fires of conflict and civil war in these developing countries? Containers full of medicines, tents, food, blankets and other such things bring temporary relief, but this is not enough.

We must be more active and rethink our strategy. We must first of all give the poor a stake in their rural economies so that they may own their land and have an opportunity to build their lives. Secondly, we must give them the appropriate technology - third world technology - which they can then use to start local enterprises to break this cycle of dependency on us. We must rethink our strategy and reassess the quality of people that we have in place as our ambassadors and representatives, their experience, and see how we can perhaps use local experts with international reputation and competence to advise us, to act on our behalf, to use the limited resources that we have to its best effectiveness.

We must embark on this with great urgency. I have great confidence in Commissioner Pattern to lead this, and Commissioner Nielson, and I hope that they will get together and make sure that the EU's next decade is much better than the last 40 years, a period in which, I consider, much time and resources were wasted.