Burundians March in Support of Military-Installed Leader

News and Press Release
Originally published
By STEFAN LOVGREN Associated Press Writer
BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) - Thousands of people marched through the streets of the capital today, chanting slogans in support of the Tutsi army major who replaced Burundi's Hutu president in a military coup.

Pierre Buyoya was to address supporters at a soccer stadium.

Central and east African leaders will meet in Tanzania next week to discuss the political shift, but the new military-backed government will not be invited, the Tanzanian Foreign Ministry said Friday.

Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa arrived in Uganda today to discuss the situation with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Western and African leaders have condemned this week's coup, although they have said nothing about sending troops to restore President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya. Both Burundi's military and Hutu rebels were opposed to outside intervention.

Buyoya has said he took power to stop Burundi's cycle of violence. Days before the Tutsi-led coup, some 320 Tutsis were slaughtered, allegedly by Hutu rebels, at a camp for people displaced by Burundi's three-year civil war.

"We should not condone a coup, but the situation in Burundi was so bad it was not possible to go on with the same government," Eugene Nindorera, a human rights activist said Friday.

Many Hutus, however, fear Tutsi soldiers will be emboldened by having one of their own leading the tiny central African nation. Some 4,000 Hutus in the Tutsi-dominated capital have sought protection at a displaced persons' camp.

One woman at the camp, 25-year-old Esperance Cumra, was not optimistic.

"Systematic killings of Hutus will continue," she said, adding that she has "already lost too many relatives to count" to Tutsi soldiers.

There have been no reports of ethnic violence in Burundi since Buyoya was installed as president on Thursday, a U.N. spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The 46-year-old Buyoya has said the goal of the coup leaders - believed to be Tutsi moderates - was to restore democracy "very soon." But he has said the process could take 12 to 18 months.

Hutu political opponents have vowed to fight the new regime. The Hutu-dominated FRODEBU party, the largest of 12 political groups in the deposed government, urged members to "forcefully reject" Buyoya's "return by the barrel of the gun."

Buyoya staged a coup in 1987 and ruled Burundi until June 1993, when he was defeated in the country's first democratic elections. Melchior Ndadaye won and became Burundi's first Hutu president, but he was killed four months later by Tutsi paratroopers in a failed coup.

Buyoya supporters say that as president he will be able to control the army and the police. Critics, however, note that in 1988, under Buyoya's leadership, the army killed 20,000 Hutus in countrywide massacres.

Since late 1993, at least 150,000 people have died in spiraling violence as Hutus have steadily taken up arms against the Tutsi-dominated, 15-20,000-strong military. Hutus make up 85 percent of Burundi's 6 million people, Tutsis 14 percent.

President Ntibantunganya (pronounced en-tee-bahn-toon-gan-yah) has been at the U.S. ambassador's residence since paratroopers surrounded government buildings in the capital Tuesday night. He has made no resignation announcement.

The German Foreign Ministry said their ambassador in Bujumbura was sheltering 18 Hutus, including several prominent political leaders.

Foreign leaders worry the coup could spark ethnic warfare on the scale of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, in which a half-million Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus died.

Most in Burundi simply want to get on with their lives, said Nindorera, the human rights activist.

"People in the countryside just want to live in peace, they want to be able to sleep at night and work their farms," Nindorera said. "It doesn't matter who the president is."