U.N. peacekeepers destroy weapons of Burundian rebels

U.N. peacekeepers in Burundi on Tuesday destroyed thousands of weapons handed over by five former Hutu rebel groups in the first public act of decommissioning. The weapons, which included assault rifles, grenades, mortars, mines and ammunition used by rebel fighters in Burundi's nearly 12-year conflict, were burned on the outskirts of Bujumbura in five pits near the shore of Lake Tanganyika, raising large plumes of black smoke.

Altogether, the Thai peacekeepers from the U.N. mission destroyed 6,000 weapons, said Lt. Col. Chiosanupong Poonsiri, commander of the engineers division that carried out the decommissioning. Chiosanupong said that the first time U.N. peacekeepers destroyed weapons turned over by former rebels was in August, but that was not made public. He did not say why the August destruction was not public.

Chiosanupong did not give details of how many weapons they hope to destroy or when the arms destruction exercise will end. Burundi is emerging from almost 12 years of ethnic clashes between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis that left more than 250,000 people dead. Former rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza was elected president of this central African nation in August, but one Hutu rebel group has refused to stop fighting.

Some former rebel combatants have been integrated into the national army, police and intelligence services and the remainder, about 30,000, are being disarmed and helped to reintegrate into Burundian society, reports the AP. N.U.

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