Authorities in the tiny central African nation of Burundi said Monday that at least 5,000 people were killed in ethnic clashes that sent 35,000 people fleeing across the border.
"They've been able to get back into the hills and determine the extent of the massacre," a senior Western diplomat told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Burundi's capital, Bujumbura.He said Burundi's foreign minister, Cyprien Mbonimpa, issued the government's first official estimate of the number killed in last week's massacre in a communique given to foreign diplomats at a morning briefing.
"It indicated the government's latest body count, the number of those killed, now is about 5,000," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition he not be further identified.
Mbonimpa described as "highly exaggerated" a media report that at least 24,000 people had been killed in the fighting that began Aug. 14 between the Hutu, Burundi's majority tribe, and the Tutsi, the minority tribe that controls the military and rules the country, the diplomat said.
"From every report, including those from non-governmental sources, no one believes that figure," he said.
State-run Radio Kigali Monday said 35,000 people fled the bloodbath to Burundi's northern neighbor, Rwanda.
The radio, monitored in Nairobi, said Burundi officials on Sunday met Rwandan officials at Rwanda's southern border town of Butare, where the refugees are gathered.
It gave no details of the discussions, but said the Rwandan officials promised the Burundi officials they would not allow anyone to use their territory to stage attacks on Burundi.
Burundi has claimed last week's violence was caused by expatriate Hutus who infiltrated northern Burundi from foreign countries.