Violence in Burundi Forces Red Cross Exit

Exiles from the crisis in Burundi now include the expatriate staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The ICRC secretly evacuated its remaining foreign personnel from the central African nation Tuesday, exactly a week after unknown assailants gunned down three of their Swiss employees there. ICRC officials say they did not publicize the pullout, because they'd received several anonymous death threats recently, and feared gunmen might attack them as they left.

"It's a hot situation," said a weary Uli Mueller, the deputy head of the ICRC's Burundi mission, and one of eight ICRC workers who touched down in Nairobi Tuesday night. "There are a lot of people there now without help."

ICRC officials say they made the decision to at least temporarily withdraw from Burundi because they were specifically targeted for attack. The group's spokesmen say since their three co-workers were executed last week in the northern province of Cibitoke, extremists have placed numerous threatening telephone calls to their office in Bujumbura, the capital.

The ICRC staff was one of the largest humanitarian operations in Burundi, and the only aid group working in the country's war-ravaged northwest. The departure of its 40 expatriate staffers marks the first time the organization has pulled all its foreign personnel out of the nation. The Red Cross is known for remaining in war zones, despite heavy risks. It was the only international aid group to continue to work in neighboring Rwanda during the height of the genocide two years ago.

"A week ago, we lost three friends. We were living together, working together.... Now we have to leave all the work behind," Mr. Mueller said. "But if people would ask me if I would go back to help people there, I would say 'yes.' "

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