Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Amid fears that war could return to Africa's Great Lakes region following the massacre of 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees in Burundi, the African Union is pressing for the killings to be treated as a terrorist attack.
AU leaders said the activities of the Burundi National Liberation Forces (FNL) rebel group, which said it carried out the attack, should be investigated under the Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism.
It urged all member states to impose a travel ban on FNL leaders.
The South African government, the main facilitator of peace talks in Burundi, said the FNL should be declared a terrorist group, and called for U.N. Security Council support for such a move.
The FNL, which comprises ethnic Hutus and has bases along the Burundi-Congolese border, claimed responsibility for Friday's attack on a refugee camp just inside Burundi territory. The FNL is the last active rebel movement fighting against Burundi's transitional government.
FNL, a rebel group comprising of extremist Hutu tribesmen has bases along the shared border between Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. Eyewitness accounts suggested the attackers could have included Hutu rebels from Rwanda as well as DRC militias.
The massacre has sparked fears of war returning to a region which has seen so much bloodshed over the past 10 years.
Burundi has threatened to send troops into the DRC to pursue the rebels. Army chief Gen. Germain Niyoyankana told reporters he had also not ruled out "an offensive against the DRC aimed at making them respect our country's borders."
Rwanda, Burundi's neighbour to the north which has suffered severely at the hands of Hutu extremists, also threatened to send troops.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande said the DRC has failed to disarm and demobilize about 15,000 Hutu fighters, known as Interahamwe, who were responsible for planning and carrying out attempted genocide of minority Tutsis in Rwanda a decade ago.
The DRC, which is itself emerging from a war, has vowed to defend its borders.
Civil war erupted in Burundi in 1993, when majority Hutu rebels rose up against the Tutsi-dominated government and army. In a country of 6.85 million people, some 300,000 have been killed since then.
DRC's own five-year long civil war, which cost more than two million lives, officially ended in 2002.
During the second half of the 1990s, both Rwanda and Burundi sent forces into the eastern DRC, in an effort to wipe out the Hutu extremists sheltering there.
South Africa mediated Burundi peace talks and a treaty was signed in 2000, but clashes with rebels have continued as the country heads to elections in October that are meant to wrap up the transitional peace process.
Burundi's transitional president, Domitien Ndayizeye, has now called for the polls - the first since the outbreak of war - to be postponed until all the rebel factions are disarmed.
A delay looks unlikely, however. Six African heads of state meeting in Tanzania Wednesday endorsed a power-sharing agreement between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi. A new constitution formally comes into force in the country on Nov. 1.
A report by two security research groups, SaferAfrica and Safeworld, has attributed the conflict in the Great Lakes region to the presence of significant numbers of small arms and ineffective laws to clamp down on those possessing them.
The State Department said the U.S. government supported a United Nations decision to investigate the attacks. Washington called on regional governments to cooperate in identifying the perpetrators and in bringing them to justice.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.