Wire Service: RTw (Reuters World Report)

Date: Fri, Mar 18, 1994 By Sue Pleming

BUJUMBURA, March 18 (Reuter) - Ethnic hatred, a fragile government and an army with its credibility in tatters all weigh heavily against Burundi extracting itself from a bitter cycle of tribal bloodletting.

Diplomats, aid workers and Burundi pressure groups said on Friday they had little hope that the tribal bloodshed which has killed tens of thousands of people since October would soon end.

When night falls in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, blasts of gunfire and grenades underline that tribal war between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi tribes continues.

"On the surface things look pretty calm but the sound of gunfire and grenades shows another story," said a diplomat.

The capital's suburbs are being systematically ethnically cleansed, putting further pressure on aid groups struggling to feed and shelter hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Shelly Pitterman, chief representative in Burundi of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said both the Hutu and the Tutsi feared for their existence.

He said the Hutu were alarmed by the Tutsi-dominated army while the Tutsis were afraid of the Hutu masses. "The only solution is dialogue," Pitterman added.

Some politicians and human rights groups point at the army as a main cause of instability since renegade troops murdered Burundi's first democratically-elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, in October.

"We have a (tribally) sick army which is operating in a sick society. We need to reform the army," said Eugene Ndorera, an executive member of the Burundi human rights group Iteka. "They sometimes forget they are in uniform and instead act as the agitators," added Ndorera, a Tutsi.

Many residents hold the army responsible for the death of up to 200 people, mostly Hutu, who were shot and stabbed to death in the northern Bujumburu district of Kamenge last week.

"The events of Kamenge were very shocking. People are still finding bodies. What we must ask ourselves is was this the last eruption of violence," said Pitterman. "The violence is still there. There must be evidence of political will."

The bloodletting was triggered by the failed coup against the government of Ndadaye, a Hutu, and his Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) party -- which won 71 percent of the vote in July last year and ousted the Tutsi-dominated UPRONA party.

President Cyprien Ntaryamira, also a Hutu, replaced Ndadaye. He in turn appointed a member of the minority Tutsi tribe and UPRONA member as prime minister.

Western diplomats said this conciliatory step had done little to pacify the political and tribal crisis. "The Tutsis just cannot accept that they no longer have the real power," one added.

Even the church has not escaped the tribal polarity with some residents accusing some clergymen of unintentionally pitting one group against the other despite pleas for peace.

About 65 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and bishops say that they worked hard at bringing the two rival communities together and preach every Sunday for peace.

But arms are freely available in the capital and hand grenades can be brought for as little as 100 francs (40 cents).

"A population which is so heavily armed is not one which can find peace," said Bujumbura's Bishop Simone Ntamwana.

Aid workers say the land-locked country also faces rising malnutrition despite tireless attempts to reach the needy, many of whom are in hiding in the thousands of hills.

"Malnutrition is a problem which promises to get worse until the next harvest in June or July. How big those (crop) losses will be is an open question," said UNHCR's Pitterman.

The World Food Programme, the U.N. food arm, says it will be feeding up to a million Burundians by the end of the year.

Bronek Szynalski, WFP director of emergency programmes, said his agency had enough food in store for the next three months but was short of about 75 percent of what was needed until the end of the year.