Burundi on the Brink


Size: 10,747 sq. miles (about the size of Massachusetts).

Location: In Central Africa, surrounded by Rwanda, Zaire, and Tanzania.

Ethnic makeup: 14 percent Tutsi, 85 percent Hutu, 1 percent Twa Pygmies.

President: Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, a Hutu.

Population: 6 million (including tens of thousands of exiles).

Economy: Agricultural. Coffee accounts for 85 percent of export revenues.

GNP: $180 per capita per year, one of the lowest in the world.

THIS small, mountainous central African country has had a troubled past. For 30 years, Burundi has been wracked with warfare between two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Tens of thousands have died and a like number have fled.

The Tutsis are in the minority but control the Army, business, and government. They ruled until the early 1990s, when Western powers pressured them to hold an election. A Hutu, Melchior Ndandaye, won. For the first time, the Hutus had power.

But Ndandaye's assassination in October 1993 sparked ethnic warfare that killed 100,000. Tensions have been simmering since then.

Power-sharing arrangements have not worked well. The current president and much of parliament are Hutu, but power still lies with the Tutsi-dominated Army. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda by Hutus against mainly Tutsis hardened extremist positions in Burundi.

Some are concerned that Burundi may follow in Rwanda's footsteps. That would be destabilizing for its neighbors, which cannot absorb more refugees.

And it would be difficult to get outside help, with the international community fatigued with failed missions in Rwanda and Somalia.

Reasons for fighting

Hutus have not had power commensurate with their numbers. The Tutsi elite have held on to power and the little land available in this mountainous country. Hutus are particularly angry at having lost the first democratically elected Hutu president to assassination.

Is It Just Another Rwanda?

ES and no.

Similarities: Both are small, Central African neighbors and former Belgian colonies. Both have the same mix of Hutus and Tutsis and endure strife between the two groups.

Differences: In Rwanda, when the genocide occurred in 1994, the Hutu majority was in power, having marginalized or sent into exile large numbers of the Tutsi minority for several decades.

Many Tutsis settled in Uganda, where they trained and formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Unlike the Burundi militias, the RPF was like a proper army. It was able to throw out the Hutu government and send 2 million Hutus into exile.

Differing conditions in the two countries make Rwanda's genocide unlikely to be repeated in Burundi. Tutsis in Burundi dominate the Army, but they don't control the countryside or a large stratum of society as the Hutus did in Rwanda.

And Burundi's Hutu guerrillas are too poorly equipped or prepared to commit genocide.

Is a Tutsi the Same as a Hutu? Almost.

OME anthropologists say Hutus and Tutsis differ more on the grounds of class and economic standing than ethnicity.

The two groups speak the same language and have similar customs. The only thing that superficially sets them apart is physical appearance - and even then that is not always certain.

Tutsis, according to stereotype, are tall and angular, with aquiline noses. Hutus are described as short and squat, with broad noses.

But much intermarriage between the two groups has blurred the lines, making it difficult to tell the difference.

Those who follow the intricacies of Burundi's politics say the tensions can't be chalked up merely to ethnic differences. Politics also plays a factor. There are regional divisions along clan and geographic lines - such as a north-south split among Tutsis.

Class differences divide Hutus and Tutsis as well. Tutsis are the elite; Hutus are generally the peasants and urban poor.

In the old days, in fact, there was a special ceremony for a Hutu to become a Tutsi. But a Tutsi could become a Hutu simply by becoming destitute.

What International Groups Are Doing

* UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is expected to call for an international force of up to 25,000 troops to be deployed. He wants troops authorized to use force if Burundi people try to interfere with humanitarian efforts.

The force would be led by one member state rather than a UN joint command. ''Less than two years after ... Rwanda, the international community must not be caught unprepared,'' Mr. Boutros-Ghali wrote in a report obtained by AP.

* International aid organizations are present in Burundi. Many have withdrawn from the interior because of attacks. But aid workers are concerned that a protective UN force might affect the perception of the workers' neutrality.

* The United States sent US Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright to Burundi in January. She said the US would not tolerate any government that came to power by nondemocratic means. The US has withdrawn its ambassador because of concerns over safety.

* US and other diplomats are trying to support moderates to keep alive the hope of negotiations in the face of a rapidly polarizing situation.


16th century: Watutsis [Tutsis] from Ethiopia and Uganda move into what is Burundi today, establish a feudal monarchy. Tutsis control business, politics, military.

1895: Incorporated into German East Africa.

1919: Belgium takes over. Rules indirectly through Tutsis.

1962: Independence from Belgium.

1962-1992: Ruled by military dictatorships. From1962 to 1964, more than 27,000 killed in periodic ethnic massacres by the two main groups.

1972: Tutsi Army goes on rampage after Hutu uprising, killing more than 100,000.

1992: Democratic trend gains under President Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi.

June 1993: Melchior Ndadaye, a moderate Hutu, is elected overwhelmingly. The Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) party representing many Hutus wins parliament.

Oct. 21, 1993: Military coup. Ndadaye and various senior officials killed by Tutsi soldiers. In ensuing ethnic violence, up to 100,000 people killed, mostly Hutu.

Feb. 1, 1994: A UN-sponsored power-sharing arrangement goes into effect.

April 6, 1994: President Ntaryamira killed in a plane crash with Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. In Rwanda, Hutu Army and militias began genocide that leaves more than 500,000 dead, mostly Tutsis.

Sept. 10, 1994: Ten of 13 parties agree to deal giving 55 percent of government posts to Hutus and 45 percent to mainly Tutsi opposition.

Sept. 1994-March 1995: Sporadic fighting, leading up to 30,000 civilians fleeing the capital, Bujumbura.

March 31, 1995: Up to 40,000 Hutu refugees flee across the border near Ngozi into Tanzania after an attack on a refugee camp.

April 1995: Military operations begin in Kamenge, a poor Hutu-dominated suburb of Bujumbura, to flush out militias. Tens of thousands of people flee into the hills.

Oct. 8, 1995: Zaire closes its border to Burundi. Heavy fighting in the northwest.

Nov. 11, 1995: Army kills more than 400 Hutu villagers in Gasarar, outside Bujumbura.

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