Prevent genocide in Burundi Latest coup: Ethnic strife has no reason, knows no limits.

July 26, 1996

AS IT IS, history will judge us rather severely for Rwanda," said Kofi Annan, U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping, on Wednesday. "I don't think we can repeat that experience in Burundi." Today, it is being repeated.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council said it was "gravely concerned" and strongly condemned "any attempt to overthrow the present legitimate government by force or coup d'etat." Yesterday, the Tutsi-dominated army seized the capital, Bujumbura. It pronounced President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, a Hutu who is under the U.S. ambassador's protection, overthrown. It replaced him with a Tutsi.

Tutsi officers and Hutu rebels need only look at Bosnia not to take great nations' threats seriously. Mr. Annan, a Ghanaian, has been trying to put together an African intervention force under U.N. auspices and had the offer of a few battalions, but not enough.

Burundi, like Rwanda, has a dominant 15 percent who are Tutsi, while 85 percent of its 6 million people are Hutu. Burundi and Rwanda were separate kingdoms with similar ethnic mixes before European contact and remained so as German colonies, Belgian protectorates and modern countries.

A Hutu regime in Rwanda launched genocide in 1994, killing perhaps a half-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Tutsi rebel army took over and turned some 1.7 million Hutus into refugees. Burundi tried to keep its own lid on, with a Tutsi-controlled army and coalition government. But in recent days, a Hutu rebel force slaughtered 300 Tutsi women and children, the Tutsi army drove 15,000 Hutu refugees into Rwanda, the Hutu president was stoned and fled to the U.S. embassy, and Tutsis quit his government. Then the coup.

The U.S. refused to recognize the coup. Washington's priority should be to prevent killing, not decide who rules. Despite past Belgian belief that Hutus and Tutsis were racially distinct tribes, they now appear as separate castes of a single people. Folks who are neither Hutu nor Tutsi cannot distinguish between them, but that doesn't stop the carnage.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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