UN mission says claims linking it to rebels "unfounded"

Allegations linking the UN Operation in Burundi, known as ONUB, to the remaining active rebel group in the country, the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL), are "serious and unfounded" and undermine the mission's mandate, ONUB said on Friday.

"ONUB learned through the media that FNL fighters were caught in uniforms ordinarily worn by soldiers of the South African and Nepalese contingents," ONUB said in a statement quoting the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Burundi, Carolyn McAskie.

It said McAskie, who is also the head of ONUB, was dismayed by the situation and strongly condemned the fact that a rebel movement should be in possession of uniforms belonging to contingents of the ONUB force.

"Any uniform belonging to a United Nations soldier and found in possession of a third party must have been obtained illegally and should, therefore, be returned to the authorities of the ONUB force immediately," ONUB reported.

It said officials of the National Defence Force and ONUB force had begun joint investigations into the use of these uniforms by the FNL.

A local radio station had reported that "the fact that a Burundian rebel has been caught with a South African uniform and a United Nations helmet is further evidence that ONUB troops are accomplices of [FNL leader] Agathon Rwasa's rebel movement."

ONUB urged the FNL to return to the negotiating table with the government of Burundi, saying, "It is, therefore, up to the movement to show the governments of Burundi and Tanzania that it is willing to negotiate".

ONUB added: "The United Nations reiterates its readiness to support the efforts made by both governments in this regard.

"ONUB is also concerned at the serious shortcomings of certain media organisations which, after playing a commendable part in the success of the electoral process, have recently stood out by broadcasting all sorts of rumours and unfounded accusations."