Ethnic unrest in Burundi leaving towns deserted

April 02, 1995|By New York Times News Service

BUJUMBURA, Burundi -- An eerie quiet prevailed yesterday on the muddy streets of Bwiza, its fire-blackened houses and gutted stores the only testimony to an attack that has revived a national mood of foreboding in Burundi.

Bwiza and nearby Buyenzi were the capital's last two ethnically mixed districts where majority Hutus lived side by side with the minority Tutsis.

Now there are no Hutus in either neighborhood.

Last weekend, more than 200 Hutus were killed when armed gangs of Tutsis and Tutsi soldiers swept through Bwiza and Buyenzi, firebombing buildings and cars and shooting dozens of people. Burnt out of their homes, thousands of Hutus have taken refuge in the capital's ethnic ghettos or fled into the countryside or to neighboring Zaire.

So Bwiza has become like the rest of Burundi: a land segregated along ethnic lines, stalked by fear and ruled by violence.

In a country that is so rigidly segregated and paralyzed by animosity, hope for a political solution seems to be drying up, United Nations and government officials here say.

"It is developing a more complete form of apartheid than South Africa was ever able to devise," said one Western diplomat. "The violence is a roller-coaster ride where the peaks are getting closer. The extremists are running the political process at the moment."

This most recent attack came almost precisely a year after ethnic massacres began in neighboring Rwanda on April 6, 1994.

Burundi, which has an ethnic makeup similar to Rwanda's and has also been torn by years of ethnic violence, is haunted by Rwanda's recent experience, in which as many as half a million people, mostly Tutsis, were killed.

This week, some 40,000 Hutus who trekked here from Rwanda last year to escape reprisals decided to pack up, abandoning refugee camps in northern Burundi and hiking toward the Tanzanian border. Yesterday, most of them were camping along the roads, stranded after Tanzania shut its border crossings.

Like Rwanda, Burundi has also been roiled by ethnic massacres, most recently in 1993, when 100,000 people were killed after the assassination of the newly elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye. Mr. Ndadaye was a victim of one of at least four attempted military coups in two years.

In April 1994, another president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was killed with Rwanda's president in a suspicious plane crash as the two were returning from a regional conference that addressed the two neighbors' ethnic tensions.

Like Rwanda, Burundi is about 85 percent Hutu and 14 percent Tutsi. But Burundi has avoided the chaos of Rwanda, largely because of an uneasy cooperation between its Hutu-dominated government and its Tutsi-dominated military.

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