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Burundi Has a New Leader, But The Same Old Problem

July 28, 1996

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) _ To the beat of traditional drums, thousands of Burundians danced and sang Saturday in celebration of a Tutsi-led military coup.

On the other side of the lakeside capital, in the dirty warrens of a camp for the displaced, Hutus feared the army may abuse its newly strengthened powers.

Burundi has a new leader but the same old problem: 15 percent of the population holds power over the remaining 85 percent and is not willing to share it, let alone let go of it.

``Tutsis just have too much power,″ said Emmanuel Mpfayokurera, a Hutu member of parliament. ``They will not allow Hutus to gain power.″

Western and African leaders condemned Wednesday’s bloodless coup against a fragile coalition government, fearing it could cause ethnic slaughter on the scale of neighboring Rwanda’s genocide two years ago, when at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

But U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s plea for troops to prevent ethnic slaughter gained no more support. President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, fearing for his life for the second time in three years, sought refuge once again in a diplomatic compound _ this time at the residence of the new U.S. ambassador. He was still there Saturday.

The Clinton administration threatened to cut off $3 million in humanitarian aid and a $50,000 program for training military officers, and the European Union moved to suspend development aid programs.

In Tanzania on Saturday, military experts from Zaire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania reportedly were conferring on a response to the coup, according to a source in the capital of Dar es Salaam, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But Zaire _ a crucial player in the region _ ruled out foreign intervention in Burundi.

``It is meaningless to send an international force because this will end in a situation like Liberia or Somalia. It is up to the Burundians themselves to solve these problems,″ Zairian Foreign Minister Jean Marie Kititwa-Tumasi said.

In Kampala, Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni joined his Tanzanian counterpart Benjamin Mpaka and former Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere at a working dinner Saturday to discuss the situation.

Nyerere had been trying to mediate an agreement between Tutsi and Hutu political parties that would end violence between the Tutsi-led military and extremist Hutu rebels in which civilians have been the principal victims.

Maj. Pierre Buyoya, 46, who has twice has assumed power in a military coup, said his backers, believed to be moderates in the 20,000-member army and police force, want him to end the cycle of violence.

Days before the coup, about 320 Tutsis were slaughtered, allegedly by Zaire-based Hutu rebels, at a camp for people displaced in the violence set off by the assassination of the country’s first Hutu president in 1993.

``I will do my best to protect the Hutus,″ Buyoya (pronounced boo-YO-yah) told government employees Saturday. ``And I will do my best to protect the Tutsis.″

He said his intention was to restore democracy soon, but that that could take a year or more. In the meantime, political parties, demonstrations and strikes are forbidden.

Buyoya, who overthrew Jean-Baptiste Bagaza in a 1987 coup, paved the way for Burundi’s first free elections. He was defeated in June 1993 by Melchior Ndadaye, who became the nation’s first Hutu president. Ndadaye was killed four months later by Tutsi paratroopers in a failed coup.

Since late 1993, at least 150,000 people have died in spasms of violence as Hutus have steadily taken up arms against Tutsis.

The extremist Hutu militia Intagohekas _ ``those who never sleep″ in the Kirundi language that Hutus and Tutsis share _ have chased many Tutsis from the mostly Hutu countryside and attack camps for tens of thousands of displaced Tutsis.

Members of the Tutsi extremist militia Sans Echec, French for ``without failure,″ have killed Hutu civilians in attempts to clear them from once ethnically mixed neighborhoods of the capital.

The army has also been implicated in many killings.

Coup supporters say Buyoya will be able to control the army and the police. Critics, however, note that in 1988, under Buyoya’s leadership, the army killed 15,000 Hutus in countrywide massacres.

``If the notion of relative deprivation has any meaning, it is apparent in the rising expectations of the Hutu masses and their bitter disappointment on discovering that, in spite of official statements to the contrary, nothing would substantially alter the realities of Tutsi supremacy,″ wrote Rene Lemarchard, a leading authority on Burundi and Rwanda, in his book ``Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide.″

Buyoya will fail again unless he wins what has so far been unwinnable _ concessions from both Tutsi and Hutu extremists.

That is unlikely.

Hutu extremists vowed to continue their fight until they have driven the army back to the barracks _ and the negotiating table.

``We will go on with our struggle for democracy in Burundi ... against the monoethnic army,″ said Jerome Ndiho, Brussels-based spokesman for the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy, the rebels’ political arm.

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