Date: Tue, 17 Jun 97 13:18:25 CDT
From: rich%pencil.BITNET@pucc.PRINCETON.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: BURUNDI: Deposed President Comes out of Hiding
/** headlines: 178.0 **/
Copyright 1997 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Deposed President Comes out of Hiding
By Jean Baptiste Kayigamba, InterPress Service, 11 June 1997
KIGALI, June 11 (IPS) - The exit from hiding of deposed Burundi President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya could mark a new phase in the troubled political history of the Central African nation, although it is still too early to tell what its effects will be.
Ntibantunganya came out of hiding on Saturday, nearly 11 months after he was ousted on July 25, 1996 in an army coup that brought ex-military ruler Major Pierre Buyoya back into power.
The coup occurred two days after Ntinbantunganya sought refugee at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in the capital Bujumbura amid growing chaos and an escalating rebellion by members of the country's Hutu majority. He had stayed in the residence residence for months, despite promises by the military regime to guarantee his safety.
"If he left his hiding place, it is because he certainly felt that there has been a positive evolution of the situation, that things have stabilised," one Western diplomat in the capital, Bujumbura, told IPS. "One can guess that his hosts also played an important role in convincing him to go out."
"The first thing to do after this long time in hiding is to thank the U.S. Ambassador to Burundi," Ntibantunganya declared after his re-emergence. He also praised the U.S. government and his relatives, whom he said had given him moral support.
"As you may undertand, it is painful to pass all this time without seeing one's wife and children," Ntibantunganya told reporters. His wife, Pascasie Minani left Bujumbura for France soon after the coup. His children had been living in Germany.
He is now living in Kiriri, a suburb overlooking Lake Tanganyika, in a residence guarded by the military.
Ntibantunganya told reporters that he would try and help resolve the ethnic conflict in Burundi -- which pits the country's Hutus against the minority Tutsis -- through peaceful means. Any solution, he said, "will only come out of negotiations between the country's politicians who have to sit together and search for that solution, because no one can claim to possess it alone."
Poltical analysts in Bujumbura feel Ntibantunganya's return to the political scene could change the balance of forces within the former ruling Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU), the party that backed the country's first Hutu president, the late Melchior Ndadaye.
Ndadaye's assassination in a failed military coup in October 1993 triggered an orgy of killings. Since his murder, more than 150,000 people, both Tutsis and Hutus, have died.
Although Buyoya's regime has been credited with restoring security in some parts of the country, a Hutu rebellion led by former Interior Minister Leonard Nyangoma has not died down.
Nyangoma's Democratic Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) have been fighting against the army in various parts of the country. Recently, the rebels staged attacks on the outskirts of Bujumbura, but the army reportedly beat them back.
On Saturday, they attacked a camp for displaced persons at Butakata, in the north-western province of Bubanza, killing two people.
"Armed gangs of the terrorist 'genocidaires' are present (in the province). The army is tracking them down," provincial governor Lt Col. Gerard Haziyo said on Tuesday. 'Genocidaires' (perpetrators of genocide) is the term usually used by the Buyoya regime to describe the FDD.
About 200 people reportedly abducted by the rebels in Butakata were later found in neighbouring communes.
According to Haziyo, peace has returned to the area since the weekend attack. However, sources in the Burundi capital have reported the presence of snipers along the main road from Bubanza to Bujumbura.
The attacks have continued despite talks which have been going on since February between Buyoya's government and the National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD), the political wing of the FDD. Mainly Tutsi opposition parties in Bujumbura, as well as university students have come out against the negotiations with forces they, too, see as 'genocidaires'.
Observers in Bujumbura say Ntibantunganya's reappearance is likely to rekindle a struggle within the leadership of FRODEBU, which has a faction inside the country and another, more radical one, that operates from the outside.
The radical faction, led by former FRODEBU chairman Jean Minani, is based in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. It recently threatened to take up arms against Buyoya if it was not included in the peace talks.
Ntibantunganya's exit from hiding could help the Buyoya regime as it strives to convince the East and Central African states that imposed a trade and transport embargo on Burundi in response to the 1996 coup that it is committed to guaranteeing political freedom for all politicians in Burundi.
But one case remains pending, that of former President Jean Bagaza, who has been under house arrest since the military regime cracked down on his party earlier this year.
[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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