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Burundi Army Learns Democracy Has Roots

By Robert M. PressStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 29, 1993



NAIROBI, KENYA

THE days of military coups in Africa are far from over. But the growing resistance to last week's coup in Burundi shows that African and world reaction against a coup makes a difference.

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The state-controlled Radio Burundi reported yesterday that the military putsch had collapsed. The democratically elected government is preparing to resume control.

Observers say that many in the military now realize that they cannot resist the pull of democratization in the country.

The military, though dominated by the minority Tutsi ethnic group, proved not to be as monolithic as it appeared. The Army coup plotters who seized power in Burundi Oct. 21 ran into stiff opposition from all angles: the public, the international community, and the military itself.

``They made a coup without taking into account the change in the world,'' says Mutombo Mulami of the Nairobi-based All Africa Council of Churches.

Previous military coups and ethnic massacres in Burundi since independence in 1962 brought little world attention or condemnation, Mr. Mulami says. Not this time.

Foreign governments quickly condemned the coup. Donors cut aid. The Organization of African Unity, currently chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, sent a special envoy to investigate.

``This is the first time there has been a [world] consensus on Burundi,'' Mulami says.

In the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, some senior Army officers have been distancing themselves from the coup plotters. Calling themselves the ``legalists,'' they have been speaking on state-run Television and radio, denouncing the coup and calling for the government's return.

Burundi Communications Minister Jean-Marie Ngendahayo, interviewed in August, offered another reason why coups in Burundi may not be as simple as before. Many in the military realize ``they can't stop the process of democratization,'' because the Hutus, who comprise 85 percent of the population, will rise up against them.

Already there have been numerous reports of massacres of Tutsis by Hutus in revenge for the killing of President Melchior Ndadaye in the coup. Ndadaye was the first Hutu president, elected by popular vote.

Burundi Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi announced Tuesday from the French Embassy, where she and other officials have taken refuge, that those responsible for the coup would be severely punished.