Burundi on the bubble Slaughter threatened: Tutsi minority army a menace to Hutu majority.

January 30, 1996

THE TUTSI ARMY of Burundi, bedeviled by Hutu guerrilla attacks, takes its frustrations out on the Hutu majority. There have been thousands of deaths reported, and tragic treks of people from their homes to camps inside the country and, if they can make it, out.

Burundi escaped the genocide of its neighbor, Rwanda, in 1994, when Hutu regime propaganda and militia brought about the slaughter of all Tutsi who could be caught, only to fall to the purposeful campaign of Tutsi insurgents. Both countries are about 85 percent Hutu and about 14 percent of the traditional ruling class Tutsi.

The same ethnic tensions grip both little countries. Now the government of Burundi, reflecting the majority, is in danger of being deposed by the army, which holds the real power and has remained firmly in Tutsi hands. A small Hutu insurgency, against what is ostensibly a Hutu-headed government but seen as a front for the Tutsi power structure, has provoked unthinking and murderous reprisals against Hutu who are not insurgents.

U.S. and other emissaries have warned against bloodshed and said all the right things. The Tutsi strong men of Burundi could count their blessings when Rwanda blew and Burundi did not. Now they are doing the things to earn their own downfall, as Hutu military and others did two years ago.

The Hutu perpetrators of Rwanda slaughter then are in refugee camps now, mostly in Zaire. There they plot to retrieve the power they so bloodily threw away. They should hardly serve as the role models for Tutsi strong men of Burundi now.

Slaughter of civilians, besides being a crime against humanity, proved counter-productive in Rwanda. It is likely to be little different in Burundi, if the people with the guns and the machetes the radio stations push it to the same extremes.

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