Burundi spy chiefs found guilty of WHO director's murder

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It was a gruesome killing that looked, at first sight, a robbery that had gone wrong. The badly beaten body of Kassi Manlan, director of the World Health Organisation in Burundi, was found in the shallows of Lake Tanganyika in November 2001.

But robbery was not the motive. Three rings remained on his fingers and bloodstains were found at his suburban home.

Thirteen people were sentenced yesterday for their part in what turned out to be a conspiracy that ensnared some of the most senior officials in the central African country.

Four former senior security and prison officials were sentenced to death and nine others were jailed for terms ranging from two years to life.

A lawyer for Emile Manisha, a former police chief who was sentenced to death, said: "I am very surprised by the ruling. I am myself very shocked."

Dr Manlan, from the Ivory Coast, had been in Burundi for only three months. His body was found by fishermen near the Cercle Nautique yacht club, once a favoured haunt of Belgian expatriates. There was a large bruise on his forehead and blood was seeping from an eye.

A month later, police arrested Gertrude Nyamoya, a Burundian who had worked for Dr Manlan, and accused her of conspiring with a colleague, an epidemiologist, to kill their boss before he exposed a scam involving WHO money. Ms Nyamoya, a WHO employee for more than 30 years was jailed and her colleague fled the country under diplomatic immunity. Her brother, Francois Nyamoya, a lawyer, campaigned to clear her, saying she was the "patsy" in the case which involved far bigger fish.

His investigations, which involved tracing phone records and vehicle licence plates, led him to claim that hired thugs had forced Dr Manlan to delete computer files containing information on how aid money to buy malaria drugs had been diverted to private bank accounts then killed him.

During the trial of the 13 conspirators convicted yesterday, a defence lawyer, Bernard Maingain, claimed that former president Pierre Buyoya and his wife ordered Dr Manlan's killing, linking the WHO official's death to the embezzlement of an unspecified sum meant for malaria prevention and treatment in Burundi. Mr Buyoya stepped down in 2003 to make way for his deputy and is now a visiting senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies in Rhode Island, US

A WHO spokesman in Geneva said: "The WHO was very concerned about what happened to our representative in Burundi. We did everything we could to help the authorities with their investigation." He added that Ms Nyamoya had been released and exonerated, with her WHO colleague, of all charges.

Burundi, a tiny, coffee-producing nation of seven million, is gingerly emerging from a decade of civil war that pitted the Hutu majority against the politically dominant Tutsi minority and left 300,000 dead. It is to hold elections for parliament to elect a president by 26 August.