Burundi Power-Sharing Deal

Pierre Buyoya headshot, as Burundi President
Burundi's president sealed a power-sharing deal aimed at ending the nation's eight-year civil war, just hours after Tutsi soldiers opposed to the deal mutinied Monday and kidnapped the army chief. The mutineers later surrendered.

At least 72 young Tutsi soldiers launched their coup attempt overnight in a battle with assault rifles and grenades that could be heard throughout the lakeside capital, Bujumbura, the defense minister said.

They seized the army chief of staff, Gen. Libere Hicuburundi, and fled the capital in a convoy of seized vehicles. But loyalist troops intercepted them in the northern mountains and the general was freed, a driver of one of the cars and a top military officer said.

President Pierre Buyoya shrugged off the coup attempt as he wrapped up negotiations at a summit in Arusha, Tanzania, making him the leader of a transitional government.

The mutinous Tutsi soldiers opposed the plan, under which Buyoya, a Tutsi, would share power with Hutus, who make up the majority in the Central African nation.

Under the plan, mediated by former South African President Nelson Mandela, Buyoya will lead a coalition government for the first 18 months, after which he turns over power to a Hutu politician for another 18 months, followed by elections.

The transitional government will take over Nov. 1, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in the summit's closing address.

"These mutineers are against the Arusha peace accords and do not know the necessity of the accords," Defense Minister Gen. Cyrille Ndayirukiye said.

Ndayirukiye said top military commanders had been alerted to the coup a few hours in advance and had beefed up security at the airport, radio stations and other key installations. The mutineers cut conventional telephone lines and only mobile telephones worked in the capital.

During the battle, the Bujumbura area commander and his bodyguard were wounded. Two of the mutinous soldiers were killed.

The mutineers were trying to flee with Hicuburundi in their convoy to military barracks in Kirundo province, said the driver of one of the cars they freed. But loyalist soldiers intercepted them near Ngozi 45 miles northwest of Bujumbura.

The driver, reached by mobile telephone, said one of the troops told him "everything had gone wrong."

A senior military officer told The Associated Press that the mutinous soldiers had surrendered and that four of the leaders had been arrested. The driver and the officer, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hicuburundi was freed.

A regional security official said about 600 troops from two battalions stationed north of the capital had joined the mutiny.

Joseph Nyezimana, leader of the Tutsi hardline RADDES party, said he had information that the mutineers had occupied some military camps.

"They are still fighting and they have taken some officers as hostages," Nyezimana said while attending the summit in Arusha. "The coup (attempt) was carried out o show that there is no military support for Buyoya."

The RADDES party opposes Buyoya, but Nyezimana said it does not support the coup attempt.

A confident Buyoya emerged from the power-sharing talks in Arusha promising to fly back to Burundi on Monday night.

"We are in a framework of a reforming process and when you are reforming, such kinds of events can happen," Buyoya said. "Maybe there will be another (coup) attempt, but it will fail also."

Burundi has been at civil war since Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the nation's first democratically elected president, a Hutu, in October 1993. Minority Tutsis have controlled the government and army for all but four months since independence in 1962. Hutu rebels have fought to overthrow the government, resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people, most of them civilians.

While all the Hutu political parties have signed on to the plan, the two Hutu rebel groups have rejected it and continue to fight.

Many Tutsis fear a Hutu government would carry out a genocide similar to what happened in Rwanda in 1994. More than 500,000 Tutsis were killed then by an extremist Hutu government.

Jan van Eck, an analyst with the South African-based Center for International Political Studies who has participated in the peace talks, told AP that the coup attempt, the second this year, showed how little the power-sharing agreement had accomplished.

"It does not bring us one centimeter closer to a cease-fire and that is the Burundi crisis," van Eck said. He said these coup attempts "will not go away, this maybe a practice run if the peace process does not address these people."

Asked when there could be peace in Burundi, Mandela said, "Let's not speculate ... we are dealing with the problems of today."

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