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Buyoya: Condemned for Coup, Praised for Politics

August 13, 1996

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) _ Even many of those who condemn Pierre Buyoya for seizing control of Burundi in his second military coup find reason to praise him. At the same time, many of those full of praise for the Tutsi army major find reason to be suspicious.

``Certainly at first sight, he’s done a good job,″ said Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian professor and authority on Burundi.

``The problem is: Is he really what we think he is? He could be an excellent actor as well.″

Buyoya, 46, has said the bloodless coup that ousted Burundi’s Hutu president on July 25 was a necessary step in ending the spasms of ethnic violence that have claimed at least 150,000 lives since 1993.

While acknowledging Buyoya may have come to power in the wrong way, some say he may be the right person to lead Burundi to a peaceful future.

They say throughout Buyoya’s military and political career, he has sought reconciliation between the Hutus, who are 85 percent of Burundi’s population, and the Tutsis, who make up 14 percent but historically have controlled the military, and therefore the country.

Buyoya (pronounced boo-YO-yah) first came to international attention when he and a small group of officers ousted Jean-Baptiste Bagaza in a Sept. 3, 1987, bloodless coup. Buyoya immediately launched a program to create greater political equality between Hutus and Tutsis.

In 1993, he organized Burundi’s first free and fair election since its independence from Belgium in 1962 _ and lost.

The victor, Melchior Ndadaye, the nation’s first Hutu president, was assassinated four months later by Tutsi paratroopers in a failed coup. And some human rights groups believe Buyoya was involved.

``The Buyoya regime is a great show,″ Emmanuel Mpfayokurera, a Hutu member of the disbanded National Assembly, said last week. ``It’s another Tutsi military regime serving Tutsi interests.″

Buyoya has said that as a Tutsi, he can control the country’s 20,000 soldiers. But many remain unconvinced.

Reports of violence have continued. Villagers in central Burundi’s Gitega province said Tutsi soldiers slaughtered about 1,000 Hutus just two days after the coup. The army denies the claim.

Critics also recall that in 1988, under Buyoya’s previous leadership, the army killed 15,000 Hutus, mostly civilians.

Some of Buyoya’s admirers worry they may have been duped by his intelligence, slick diplomacy, powers of persuasion and cosmopolitan demeanor.

Washington, however, insists that Buyoya is one of the few leaders in Burundi who has consistently advocated ending the bloodshed between Tutsis and Hutus.

Hank Cohen, U.S. assistant secretary for African affairs until 1993, praised Buyoya for his lack of ``ethnic arrogance.″

``I think he understands that the only way he can have peace in Burundi is to bring the Hutus in and give them some share of power.″

The outside world and most Hutus inside Burundi continue to support the deposed Hutu president, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, who has sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy residence since July 23.

Buyoya has met privately with Ntibantunganya to discuss a compromise. He also has moved to re-establish the National Assembly after disbanding it, and invited Hutus to join. He has met with diplomats based in Burundi, and local business, religious and student leaders.

Yet foreign leaders have told Buyoya they consider him to be only the leader of a Tutsi faction, not Burundi’s legitimate president.

In response to the coup, east and central African countries have cut off trade and transportation links with Burundi. France, one of two countries beyond Africa with air service to Burundi, has ended flights to Bujumbura.

And Reyntjens, the Belgian professor, doubts a Buyoya-led government will win Hutu participation.

``He is going to find it extremely difficult to form a representative government,″ Reyntjens said.

``Increasingly, it will turn out to be just another banal military dictatorship.″

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