Burundi's Big Neighbors Cut Trade To Try to Strangle Tutsi-Led Coup

Less than two weeks after Army Maj. Pierre Buyoya seized power in a bloodless coup in Burundi, economic sanctions imposed by regional leaders have begun to bite.

Some gas stations closed, and others limited sales as fuel shipments from neighboring Tanzania were prevented from reaching the country.

At a summit in Arusha, Tanzania, last week, several African countries agreed to impose a "total economic blockade" on Burundi's new regime. They refused to recognize Mr. Buyoya as president and demanded a return to constitutional government. Since the coup, Mr. Buyoya has suspended the elected parliament , and political parties have been banned.

Tanzania has been the first to put the threat of sanctions into operation. Loaded vessels waiting to leave the Tanzanian port of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika were prevented from sailing. They included vital shipments of fuel and oil, as well as cargo freighters and passenger ferries. Other vessels were prevented from being loaded.

A Tanzanian source said the Tanzanian Railway Corporation, which operates fuel barges and ferries across the lake, had outstanding orders for 800 tons of fuel that it had been unable to deliver to customers in Bujumbura. Some gas stations have already run out of stock.

Saturday's weekly Air Tanzania flight from Dar-es-Salaam to Bujumbura was canceled, reportedly by order of the Tanzanian government.

Members of the Burundi business community said dozens of trucks were backed up at Burundi's border with Tanzania. Among them were commercial shipments of fuel and other goods as well as trucks with supplies for relief agencies, which give assistance to thousands of people displaced in Burundi's continuing ethnic conflict.

Depending on the response of other neighbors, such as Rwanda, which has road links to Burundi, the embargo could have serious repercussions. Most fuel imports and a large part of Burundi's important coffee and tea exports enter or leave the country via Tanzania.

Sources in Burundi say the country has fuel reserves to last two months. If rationing is imposed, reserves could be stretched to four months.

With an ongoing war in the countryside waged by Hutu rebels against the Tutsi-dominated government, an embargo risks undermining the strength of the 20,000-strong Army. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the conflict, which began after Burundi's first democratically elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated by Tutsi Army extremists in 1993.

To what extent regional and international governments are prepared to enforce an embargo remains unclear. Rwanda has kept its border open, and Belgium, France, and Britain seem reluctant to sever commercial ties with Burundi.

In the central market in Bujumbura, the capital, merchants say that only the price of salt, imported from Tanzania, has risen. Homegrown produce, including beans, rice, vegetables, and sugar, is plentiful, and prices have remained steady.

Tanzania led other African countries in condemning last month's military-backed coup, which brought Buyoya, a member of the minority Tutsi community, to power.

AT an earlier summit in Arusha, former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere proposed sending a regional peacekeeping force to Burundi. Those plans appear to have lapsed in the wake of vocal opposition within Burundi.

Toppled President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, a Hutu, and a number of ministers from the majority FRODEBU Party, remain as guests in foreign embassies, where they fled after the coup.

The United States says it still recognizes Mr. Ntibantunganya as head of state and that he needs to have guarantees of his personal safety before he leaves the US Embassy residence.

On Saturday, Buyoya issued a decree naming a 25-member Cabinet in an attempt to win domestic support for his government. It includes members of both Hutu and Tutsi groups representing each of the provinces. However, they are drawn mainly from the minority Tutsi-dominated Uprona Party. Key posts such as defense and internal affairs remain in the hands of the Tutsi-led Army.

One analyst says it is a "politically lightweight" government of technocrats and newcomers. While Buyoya's choice of ministers has done nothing to provoke fear, it has done little to persuade Burundians that the new regime represents consensus and national unity, analysts say.

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