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Although Burundian authorities have tried to depict the Guardians of the Peace and the urban self-defense program as spontaneous and locally-created, it is clear that they are state-initiated and state-directed. National military and civilian officials retain control over these programs, even if they delegate authority over them to local military officers or administrative officials through some sort of decentralized structure.

In seeking to disguise the official nature of these programs, Burundian authorities have preached the ideology of "self-defense." Claiming that the state lacks the means to protect its citizens, they have invited the people to defend themselves. Such an invitation must inevitably heighten the fears already prevalent in a situation of severe ethnic tension, leading each group to believe that it has the right-perhaps even the duty-to protect its own interests. Politicians or military officers seeking to advance their own personal or ethnic agendas may try to exploit the impulse to "self-defense." If they do, they will find thousands of Burundians already trained to shoot and with firearms in their homes, or at least, knowing where they are stored in their neighborhoods.

One Burundian troubled by the self-defense programs said,

Only the authorities and recognized forces of order should be protecting the people. . . . If they need more manpower, then those doing the patrols should be made part of the armed forces, accountable under the law and following a clear chain of command. Otherwise they could be manipulated and used for purposes other than what was intended.116

116 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, September 6, 2000.

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