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Burundi’s Students Boycott Classes

August 21, 2000

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) _ An agreement to end Burundi’s civil war may be around the corner, but for Theophile Bujeje’s best friends it came too late.

The two brothers, both soldiers in the Tutsi-dominated army fighting a seven-year Hutu insurgency, and another friend died two weeks ago in a rebel ambush.

``I was in the same class with Jean-Marie,″ Bujeje, 28, a University of Bujumbura graduate said, referring to one of the dead brothers. ``People are being killed every day, everywhere. I lost three friends in that ambush. I sometimes feel that life has no meaning.″

On Monday, the 6,000 students at the University of Bujumbura began boycotting classes to protest the government’s failure to end the violence. Their lecturers, backed up by a trade union, joined the boycott.

A series of explosions detonated at dawn in Kinindo and Nyakabiga suburbs, where soldiers briefly clashed with anti-government protesters who tried to block commuters from going to work. No casualties were reported.

Police on Sunday detained the head of the Confederation of Trade Unions, Pierre Claver Hajayadi, and the leader of a radical Tutsi group, PA-Amasekanya, Diomede Rutamucero, both of whom called on Bujumbura residents to stay at home to protest the worsening violence.

Most people ignored the boycott.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is mediating peace talks, has invited President Clinton and other world leaders to the signing of a power-sharing agreement between the Tutsi-led government and Hutu rebels and other opposition parties on Aug. 28. Clinton will be visiting Africa later this month.

If successful, the agreement could end a deadly civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people, both Hutus and Tutsis, since October 1993. The war was triggered by the assassination of the country’s first democratically elected president, a Hutu, by Tutsi paratroopers.

President Pierre Buyoya, a retired Tutsi major, and Hutu and Tutsi opposition parties have said they want to delay signing the peace agreement. The government and the rebels asked for more time to work on a cease-fire and who would lead a three-year transition period.

Buyoya was expected to travel to South Africa on Tuesday to find out if Mandela has agreed to delay the signing, diplomats in Bujumbura said.

The accord centers on the establishment of an ethnically balanced transitional government, parliament and army, but the Burundians have not agreed on whether a cease-fire should take effect before or after the agreement is signed.

For students like Bujeje and his friends in the army, time is running out.

``This war is a moral degradation,″ said Bujeje, a serious, tall Tutsi from the northern Cibitoke province. ``You don’t know if you’ll die by the time you graduate.

``Imagine, tomorrow it could be me. We die and the rebels die. But not the politicians.″

On Saturday, some Tutsi student leaders held a rally at the campus of the country’s only university. They called for their Hutu colleagues to be searched when entering the premises.

``But you know, we share food, dormitories and classes with Hutus. Those still with us are condemned by their own people for collaborating with Tutsis,″ said Bujeje’s friend, Adolphe Nahimana.

The Hutu rebels often attack passing vehicles or steal food and money from villagers, drawing reprisals from the army.

A recent rebel ambush using rocket-propelled grenades killed 27 army cadets returning from a basketball match, including Bujeje’s friends. The cadets were traveling in a bus and truck south of Bujumbura.

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