Slaughter in Burundi

October 31, 1993

So far, television of the West has not caught the agony of Burundi as it has that of Somalia and Bosnia. If it had, the problem would be on the front burner in Washington, instead of on none.

The request of United Nations undersecretary James Jonah for only 100 peace-keepers -- for whatever they could do -- is not certain of being heeded by the over-extended U.N. The prime ministers of neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania and Zaire, deluged by some 600,000 refugees they cannot handle, have asked Organization of African Unity sanction for African intervention. If they do not restore order, no one will.

Burundi and Rwanda to the north are tiny one-time German colonies and Belgian trusteeships, declared independent in 1962, that are squeezed between Zaire and Tanzania in Central Africa. Their population is majority Hutu (85 percent of Burundi) and minority Tutsi. Hutu are small crop-raisers and the traditional underclass. Tutsi are tall herders and the traditional elite. FTC Rwanda has been governed by Hutu, Burundi by Tutsi.

In 1987 General Pierre Buyoya seized power, packing President Jean Baptiste Bagaza into exile, and the next year suppressed a Hutu uprising in which some 20,000 were killed. In June of this year, a fair election was held, making Melchior Ndadaye president, the first Hutu and first elected ruler in Burundi history. Tutsi officers retained command of the army.

A military mutiny on Oct. 22, reportedly led by General Bagaza, murdered President Ndadaye and six of the 19 cabinet ministers, touched off tribal slaughter and then failed. The (Tutsi) army command, on Oct. 25, repudiated the coup and acknowledged Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi (Hutu) as head of government. She remained with seven cabinet ministers in the French embassy. Meanwhile, outraged Hutu were slaughtering Tutsi and vice versa throughout the country.

Food is needed for hundreds of thousands of refugees in tentless camps in Rwanda and Tanzania. With the restoration of order, they should go home. If a white minority can no longer rule South Africa and the Amhara elite can no longer rule Ethiopia, then the Tutsi can no longer oppress the Hutu of Burundi. Perhaps even the Tutsi colonels understand this now.

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