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Burundi’s failed coup threatens to unleash humanitarian crisis in Tanzania

Burundi's president has now returned to the capital following a failed coup. But despite the calming of tensions, the turmoil has prompted a mass exodus, threatening neighboring Tanzania with a humanitarian crisis.

More than 100,000 people fled Burundi after Wednesday's foiled coup attempt.

The U.S. Embassy in the country has meanwhile decided to evacuate all non-emergency staff, closing its diplomatic post for the time being.

Karin de Gruijl, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said that among the refugees nearly 70,200 people had fled to Tanzania, 26,300 to Rwanda and nearly 10,000 to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"In particular in Tanzania, numbers have risen very, very sharply over the last few days," de Gruijl said.

"There are also reports of at least 10,000 people waiting to cross the border into Tanzania."

The majority of those refugees were stranded in an overcrowded lakeside village on the border with Tanzania. Up to 50,000 Burundians were reported to stay under overcrowded conditions at the Tanzanian village of Kagunga. Thousands of others were still in Kabonga in the country's southwest, waiting for opportunities to cross the border to Tanzania by boat.

In both cases, they were facing the constant risk of disease, as poor sanitary conditions threaten to escalate an already alarming humanitarian situation.

"The real problem that we have at the moment is trying to take these people off Kagunga before we have a major health situation," said Joyce Mends-Cole, the United Nations refugee agency's (UNHCR) representative in Tanzania.

The UNHCR had initially accounted for only 50,000 people fleeing Burundi in the aftermath of the thwarted coup. But the numbers of those pushed into neighboring nations on account of the political violence turned out to be much higher than originally anticipated.

Violent reprisals?

The UN human rights office also expressed concern over the developments in Burundi over the past 48 hours:

"There is a clear risk that the instability may be prolonged or even made worse if there are violent reprisals in response to what happened over the last two days," spokesman Rupert Colville said.

The latest announcements came after the attempt to overthrow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza ended in failure, with some of the coup leaders confirmed as detained. The whereabouts of the mastermind behind the rebellion, Major General Godefroid Niyombare, remain unknown.

Nkurunziza had already been reported to have returned to the capital on Thursday, but only confirmed his presence in Bujumbura by appearing publicly at the presidential palace on Friday. He is expected to address the nation later in the day.

The landlocked African state had been gripped by political instability over President Nkurunziza's controversial bid to stand for re-election in the country's June 26 polls.

The events mark the worst violence to hit the small central African nation since its 12-year civil war ended in 2005.

ss/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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