Army puts down coup attempt, defense ministry says
BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) – The Burundian army put down a coup attempt Wednesday by a group of junior army officers opposed to President Pierre Buyoya’s negotiations with Hutu rebels, the defense ministry said.
In a statement read on the independent Bonesha radio statement, the army said 30 junior officers in the Tutsi-dominated army were surrounded inside the studios of state-run Radio Burundi. The announcement was attributed to Minister of Defense Cyrile Ndayirukiye.
Soldiers were stationed around the radio station in downtown Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital. Streets were sealed off near the building, but residents walked calmly through downtown, discussing the coup attempt. No violence was reported.
The statement from the army said troops would not storm the radio station compound because they did not want to spark violence. While all independent radio stations carried the army communique, Radio Burundi broadcast music.
A group calling itself the Patriotic Youth Front took over the radio station at 4:30 p.m. and played a tape announcing Buyoya’s removal from office, the dissolution of the National Assembly and closure of the airport. The statement was attributed to Lt. Gaston Ntakarutimana. The group had never been heard of before.
Ntakarutimana was a commander at the Gakumbo military camp, which is responsible for protecting the airport, and the soldiers who took over the radio station were under his command.
Buyoya (pronounced boo-YO-yah) was in Libreville, Gabon, for peace talks with the leader of the main Hutu rebel group fighting the government in the country’s 7-year civil war. He was in a meeting with South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma when news of the coup attempt was broadcast, a Zuma spokesman said.
Tutsi hard-liners have opposed talks with the rebels and rumors of a coup have been rampant since Buyoya signed a power-sharing agreement last August with Hutu opposition leaders in Arusha, Tanzania. Subsequent talks – mediated by former South African President Nelson Mandela – did not include the Hutu rebels.
Buyoya, a Tutsi, took power in a coup in July 1996, promising to end the civil war that has left more than 200,000 people dead.
He was in Gabon to meet with Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, the leader of the main Hutu rebel group, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy. The meeting was supposed to encourage the armed rebels to join the power-sharing talks.
There are 17 political parties participating in the power-sharing talks, 10 Tutsi and 7 Hutu. The plan called for an ethnically balanced army and legislature. But Hutu rebels have refused to endorse the agreement and have not attended peace talks.
Burundi is in Central Africa, east of Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hutus make up the majority of its population, but Tutsis historically have controlled the army and economy since independence from Belgium in 1962. Tutsis have controlled the government for all but four months of the country’s history.
The civil war began in October 1993, when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country’s first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, triggering the Hutu rebellion.
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