TWO months after an attempted military coup in Burundi in which former President Melchior Ndadaye was murdered, the country remains engulfed in turmoil. Ethnic violence between the Tutsis and Hutus has apparently raised the death toll to a staggering figure.
As many as 100,000 people may have been killed since the Oct. 21 coup, says Felippo Grandi, regional program coordinator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). At least 100 people were reported killed in ethnic clashes in the northern province of Kirundo last week.
An additional 1,200 people, mostly Hutus who have fled violence by the Tutsis, are dying each week from sickness and malnutrition in crowded refugee camps located in countries bordering Burundi, Mr. Grandi says. After the coup
Some 700,000 people fled Burundi after the coup. The UNHCR has received only $8 million of the $53 million it needs over the next six months to help the refugees, Grandi said while on a stopover here.
Within Burundi, many Tutsis have fled their homes and located near Tutsi military camps to escape Hutu violence.
The overall level of violence in Burundi has subsided, according to officials of the Burundi government and a Western diplomat contacted by telephone in Bujumbura, the capital. But there are continuing reports of discipline within some elements of the Army and ``still a lot of interethnic type of killings,'' he adds.
The first members of a team from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) that eventually will number 200 observers have arrived in Bujumbura. The team will protect senior members of the civilian government and monitor any further outbreaks of violence.
``They [the OAU] are useful as witnesses'' to any further massacres, says Joseph Bangurambona, Burundi's ambassador to Kenya. He predicts the killings will continue if the world does not ``pay attention.''
The killings have been by both the Hutus, who make up 85 percent of the country, and the Tutsis, who make up about 14 percent and control the Army, according to the UN, Western diplomats, and Burundi officials. The country has a history of ethnic violence - cycles of brutal killings, revenge killings, and counter-revenge killings by both groups.
In 1972, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Hutus were killed by the Tutsis following an aborted Hutu coup. This time, says Burundi's Ambassador Bangurambona, the number killed could easily exceed 100,000. Prior to 1972, several attempted coups by the Hutus were brutally repressed by the Tutsis.
Jean Nzeyimana, spokesman for Burundi Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi, says the death toll did not exceed 10,000 to 15,000 people.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to restore calm, some surviving Cabinet members have begun to visit interior regions protected by Burundi military ``loyalists,'' as the Tutsi-controlled military now call themselves.
But some Burundi officials doubt their loyalty. ``No [military] barracks or camp was against the coup,'' says Ambassador Bangurambona. ``During the coup, no military were killed,'' not even those assigned to guard Hutu President Ndadaye when he was assassinated, he adds.
Military officials could not be reached for comment, but in earlier statements, military spokesmen blamed the coup on a clique of officers within their ranks. A national commission of inquiry into the coup has been named, but due to the reported illness of its chairman, the commission has not begun its assignment.
The Tutsis have ruled Burundi most of the time since independence in 1962. In June, Ndadaye, was elected with a 60 percent majority. His predominantly Hutu party, the Front for Democracy in Burundi, also won 65 of 81 seats in parliament. A new Hutu president?
Despite Ndadaye's assassination, his party is determined not to lose their first opportunity to rule Burundi. Some 10,000 members turned out Dec. 19 at a public stadium in the capital to express their continued solidarity and support for having a Hutu named president.
``They [the Tutsis] have to know we won and want to continue the mandate,'' says Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, Burundi's foreign minister, who stepped down on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Kinigi, a Tutsi who was appointed by the late president, has become the de facto head of state until a new president is elected or chosen by the government. Last week she met with various party leaders to discuss a procedure for selecting a new president. Government officials and the Western diplomat say the country is still too tense to hold new elections soon.
In the short run, reconciliation among rival parties is the best solution, the diplomat says. ``There's been some modest progress in the last few days ... to get parties talking to each other.''
In the long run, education can help erase deep-seated hatred and misgivings between Hutus and Tutsis, Mr. Nzeyimana says. Only 15 percent of the nation's youth go to secondary school, he adds.