Burundi coup leader calls for peace Buyoya seeks dialogue between Tutsis, Hutus

July 29, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BUJUMBURA, Burundi -- Three days after seizing power in a coup, Burundi's military-backed leader appealed yesterday for reconciliation among warring Hutus and Tutsis in the country and called for a "political dialogue" to negotiate peace.

Stepping up his efforts to win Western support and forestall international intervention, Major Pierre Buyoya also pledged to fight impunity for military officers and politicians who have organized massacres of civilians and to restore discipline to an army accused of widespread human rights abuses.

"We're going to do all we can to stop the killings," Buyoya, 46, told a news conference. The army named him president after it toppled the constitutional government Thursday.

The vast majority of Burundians are Hutus, but they historically have suffered at the hands of the 14 percent Tutsi minority, who run the towns, command the army, dominate the economy, control schools and own the land. Issues of power and privilege are key to the spiral of ethnic violence.

Buyoya said his coup was partly aimed at preventing an insurrection by hard-line Tutsis who oppose any power-sharing with Hutus. "Gangs from the street were going to overthrow the government and put the country in chaos," he said.

Later, during a 90-minute meeting with youth leaders, he said he will no longer allow militant Tutsi youths, who for three weeks have been running through Bujumbura's streets each morning with axes and clubs, to carry weapons. The runners had appeared empty-handed earlier in the day.

"His principal objective was to reassure the Hutus and to warn the Tutsis to calm down," Louis-Marie Nindorera, head of a Hutu-Tutsi youth group, said approvingly.

Western embassies have softened their criticism of Buyoya, in part because of his moderate message. Most analysts in Burundi had expected the coup to lead to a massacre -- as the last coup did in 1993, when tens of thousands were killed.

Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, the president overthrown by Buyoya, remained in seclusion at U.S. Ambassador Morris Hughes' home, where he took refuge Tuesday. The Clinton administration continues to recognize him as president of Burundi because he has not resigned.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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