On November 6th, Burundi's new democratic government dealt its first major blow to the country's insidious culture of impunity by arresting Aloys Nzabampema, the Bujumbura "Chief of Staff" of the Hutu-extremist militia group Palipehutu-FNL. Nzabampema is believed to have command responsibility for last year's Gatumba refugee camp massacre in which 153 Congolese Tutsis, half of them children, were killed. After the attack, Palipehutu-FNL (commonly known as FNL) had bragged that they had no fear of being held to account because they had become untouchable.
For a while it looked as if they were right. But when, earlier this month, the authorities finally tracked Nzabampema down and moved in to arrest him, the man suspected of systematic war crimes against both Hutu and Tutsi civilians was found in possession of a number of uniforms illegally obtained from the UN Peacekeeping force in Burundi. At a Burundian government press conference following his arrest, Nzabampema told journalists that a Burundian working for the South African contingent of the UN Peacekeeping force obtained the uniforms for him.
Most Burundians have lost a loved one in the country's vicious civil war, and many have lost loved ones to the FNL.
Nzabampema's group, which is linked to the militia who carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has killed thousands of Burundian civilians over the last five years, targetting those of Tutsi ethnicity. But recently, and in the aftermath of Burundi's transition back to democracy with the massive electoral victory of the former rebel group CNDD-FDD - earstwhile rivals of the FNL, the group has stepped up its attacks on Hutus it suspects of disloyalty. Hundreds of bodies were discovered in mass graves on FNL territory in August this year.
So the news that the FNL's Bujumbura Chief of Staff was arrested with UN Peacekeeping uniforms in his possession, which he says were given to him by a member of UN staff, has been met with anger and disbelief by many Burundians.
A spokesman for the Burundian army added fuel to the fire by claiming that FNL soldiers had been taking refuge at UN military positions following their hit-and-run attacks.
Many in the local media have accused UN staff of collusion with the FNL. The UN's Burundi office, while admitting that the uniforms belonged to them and were illegally obtained, has angrily denied the claims of collusion, attacking Burundi's fledgling independent media for making what it says are "unfounded accusations", and expressing concern "at the serious shortcomings of certain media organisations"
But the UN has not, to date, explained how the uniforms might have found their way into the FNL's hands - or issued any sort of apology for the breach of neutrality.
Why no apology from the UN's Burundi office over illegal neutrality breach?