- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Refugees from Burundi received training from Rwandan military personnel last year with the ultimate goal of removing Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza from power, according to a confidential report to the United Nations.

The U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Congo found that about 400 Burundian refugees in Congo were recruited and trained in military tactics, small arms such as assault rifles and machine guns, and hand grenades and mortars, among other weaponry.

More than 400 people have been killed in Burundi since protests began in April against Nkurunziza’s ultimately successful quest for a third term. Witnesses say that killings, torture and other human rights abuses are the result of a government crackdown on opposition members.

Like neighboring Rwanda, Burundi is majority ethnic Hutu. Recent statements by Burundian officials have echoed language used in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered in a campaign orchestrated by the Hutu-majority extremist government.

The U.N. panel of experts spoke to 18 Burundian combatants who said they had been recruited at the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda in May and June 2015 and that their numbers total four companies of 100 recruits each.

The report, seen Thursday by The Associated Press, said that six of the 18 minors interviewed were children.

“They reported that their ultimate goal was to remove Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza from power,” the report says.

A phone message left with Rwanda’s ambassador to the U.N., Eugene Gasana, was not immediately returned.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the panel of experts will present its findings to the Security Council. He said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the African Union summit over the weekend was working to make sure there is a “concerted effort” to resolve the situation in Burundi.

The Burundian government earlier rejected the proposed deployment of AU peacekeepers in the country, saying they would be treated as an invading force.

“For our part, what we hope is that the serious situation in Burundi will be resolved and there will be a political solution,” Haq said.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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