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Military Coup In Burundi Dissolves New Democracy

By Robert M. PressStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 22, 1993



NAIROBI, KENYA

FOUR months after presidential elections broke a 30-year minority grip on power in Burundi, the minority-controlled military launched a coup yesterday and reportedly captured the country's new president.

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The coup shows how fragile African democracy can be amid long-standing ethnic rivalries.

In June elections that international observers judged to be fair, Melchior Ndadaye led a successful drive of the majority Hutu to oust the Tutsi minority regime of Pierre Buyoya. But the military remained under Tutsi control.

Both the Tutsi and Hutu have clashed many times since independence in 1962, resulting in one of the world's highest tolls of ethnic-related killings. By some estimates, as many as 100,000 people have died in such strife. The coup, according to diplomats and radio reports, began early yesterday with gunfire by the rebelling soldiers.

Radio Kigali reported that some 100 paratroopers seized the president's residence with four tanks of the 11th Armoured Division. President Ndadaye and several of his top aides were reported to be under arrest.

In a Monitor interview in August, Ndadaye acknowledged his country faced a potential coup. Asked about discontent within one group of Tutsi in the military, Ndadaye replied: ``The risk is not just from [that group], it could come from another group.'' He offered no further details.

The coup was reportedly led by former military head of state Jean-Baptiste Bagaza. Phone links to Burundi were cut after the coup. There had been two previous coup attempts since the June election by other Tutsi in the military.

Some elements within the military have been uneasy with President Ndadaye's nationwide, wholesale sacking of top Tutsi civil servants.

Although the latest in a long succession of military coups, Burundi leaders from both groups had sought to avoid such political instability.

Rising to power in a military coup in 1987, Mr. Buyoya initiated many economic and political reforms, giving Hutu more posts in government. But his personal popularity among the Hutu did not overcome Hutu resistance to Buyoya's Tutsi-dominated Union for the National Progress.

``I thought I'd win,'' Buyoya told the Monitor in August. But he said it was more important for him to acknowledge defeat to allow democracy to take root in his country.