Burundi Regime Wants Mediator

News and Press Release
Originally published
By KARIN DAVIES Associated Press Writer
BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) -- Burundi's new military-backed president says world leaders who want to help end ethnic violence in the tiny Central African country should keep their troops at home and send mediators instead.

Pierre Buyoya, installed in a bloodless coup by the Tutsi-led army last week, was emphatic Sunday that he did not want international troops to restore peace to Burundi, as East African leaders have proposed.

''The idea of intervention of foreign troops has been very badly received by the Burundian population, and personally I don't believe that this can be the solution,'' Buyoya said.

Rather, neighboring countries and mediators should help facilitate ''a real political dialogue'' between the warring factions, he said at a news conference.

A rebel leader today vowed to fight against the new government.

''Do not worry too much about this ... regime because its days are numbered,'' Leonard Nyangoma, leader of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, said in a statement sent to news agencies in Kenya.

''We have committed ourselves to combat any anti-democratic regime and we give you the assurance that we shall succeed.''

East African leaders condemned the coup on Sunday but took no action against the new regime.

''The military coup undermines efforts being undertaken by both regional and world leaders aimed at finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the Burundi conflict that would guarantee security and democracy to all the people of Burundi,'' they said in a statement after meeting in Kampala, Uganda.

At his summer residence near Rome, Pope John Paul II condemned the coup and called Sunday for courage to end Burundi's ethnic violence and political instability.

Buyoya promised Sunday to restore discipline in the military because the 20,000 troops trust him. The 46-year-old Tutsi is a retired army major.

''To restore peace and security is first to restore discipline in the military,'' Buyoya said. ''We are going to do all we can to stop the killing. It will not be easy.''

Supporters of the coup that ousted Burundi's weak, ethnically mixed coalition government say Buyoya (pronounced boo-YO-yah) will be able to control the army and police. Skeptics note the 1988 bloodshed under Buyoya's previous leadership, when the army killed 15,000 Hutus, mostly civilians.

Britain's Sky TV reported today the army massacred between 50 and 150 Hutu civilians in the central Burundi town of Gitega on Saturday. It quoted witnesses as saying the army moved in after rebel militias burned a small agricultural facility on Friday near Gitega, 50 miles east of Bujumbura.

Army spokesman Lt. Col Longin Minani said: ''That is not true as far as I know.''

Charles Kaburahe, administrative director for the state-run coffee company, said a coffee factory was attacked and set on fire Saturday in Giheta, 10 kilometers west of Gitega.

''Three tons of coffee was destroyed and some electronic equipment was stolen, but no employee was hurt.''

Since late 1993, after Buyoya left office the first time, at least 150,000 people have died as Hutus have taken up arms against Tutsi soldiers and Tutsi extremist militiamen, who have killed Hutu civilians to clear them from once ethnically mixed areas. A week ago, Hutu rebels killed more than 300 Tutsis, almost all women and children, in a remote village.

Hutus are in the majority -- 85 percent of Burundi's 6 million people -- but Tutsis historically have controlled the military and, therefore, the country. Burundi is 14 percent Tutsi.

Buyoya said Sunday that all Burundians -- regardless of ethnicity or politics -- were welcome to participate in a national dialogue on their country's future.

The deposed Hutu president, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya (pronounced en-tee-bahn-toon-gan-yah) sought refuge Tuesday night at the U.S. ambassador's residence. A security guard outside the residence said Ntibantunganya was still there Sunday.

Buyoya said that although he was reluctant to take on the presidency again, he felt compelled to because his choices were ''to be witness to the genocide, to total chaos, or to try to stop it, even if this goes against some democratic principles.''

Buyoya came to power in a 1987 coup. In June 1993 elections that he brought about, Buyoya was defeated by Melchior Ndadaye, who became the nation's first Hutu president. Ndadaye was killed four months later by Tutsi paratroopers in a failed coup.

=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press