Harsh criticism for Belgium in Burundi draft peace accord

Sapa-AFP, 21 July 2000

ARUSHA, Tanzania—The divide-and-rule policies employed by Belgium when it ruled Burundi as a colony have come under fire in a draft accord aimed at ending the central African country's civil war.

The document, distributed to 19 negotiating parties this week in this northern Tanzanian town, accused Belgium and Germany of having played a decisive role in reinforcing frustrations among the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa, and in the divisions which led to ethnic tensions.

Germany was Burundi's first colonial ruler, replaced in 1916 by Belgium which ran it as a protectorate until independence in 1962.

Some 85 percent of Burundi's 6.3 million inhabitants are Hutu, 14 percent Tutsi and one percent Twa.

In the framework of a divide-and-rule strategy, the colonial administation injected and imposed a racist and stereotyped vision of Burundian society, according to the draft accord, a copy of which was obtained by the independent Hirondelle news agency in Arusha.

This was accompanied by prejudices and cliches ... aimed at fostering opposition between elements of the Burundian population on the basis of physical and character traits, the document added.

The draft accord criticised in particular Belgium's introduction in the 1930s of identity cards which registered ethnicity, thereby reinforcing ethnic awareness and allowing the coloniser to accord each group specific treatment according its (Belgium's) theories.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel came to Arusha this week to support the mediation work of South African former president Nelson Mandela.

Burundi's crisis erupted in October 1993, when the country's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, was killed in an attempted coup d'etat.

Inter-ethnic killings followed the assassination.

The war now pits a variety of Hutu rebel groups against an army and government dominated by Tutsis.

Some 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.