Burundi leader blamed for 1993 coup

The new President of Burundi, brought to power by the army last week, has been implicated in a coup attempt which led to the assassination of the country's first elected president.

The Independent has learned that a confidential United Nations document names the newly installed President Pierre Buyoya in connection with the failed coup which led to the killing of President Melchior Ndadaye and up to 100,000 Burundians in 1993.

"According to our information, Major Pierre Buyoya is mentioned in this report as the instigator of the partly failed coup of 1993", said a well- placed Belgian source. "We've been informed that the report is currently with United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in New York".

The findings of the UN report, soon to be released, could spark off chaos in the stricken central African nation. They will also have important repercussions for the international community's stand on the new regime. Despite initially condemning last week's coup, the West seems increasingly resigned to accepting Mr Buyoya, who lost power to Mr Ndadaye three years ago. Only the United States, whose ambassador has given sanctuary to the ousted President Sylvestre Ntibantungaanya, remains officially opposed to the new order.

"Buyoya certainly knew of a coup being planned in 1993", said a high- ranking foreign official in the capital, Bujumbura. "The timing of last week's coup was crucial. Those behind it wanted to act before the publication of the report and before any foreign intervention in the country's crisis".

If Mr Buyoya and his military backers are accused of having blood on their hands, any hope of their resolving the country's rising ethnic conflict will fade. The majority Hutu community feels it was deprived of power when the army, dominated by minority Tutsis, killed President Ndadaye and most of the government's Hutu ministers three years ago.

Many believe that the current crisis, which last week brought about President Ntibantungaanya's flight and the collapse of the government, was precipitated by the forthcoming report. It is thought that Mr Buyoya and his military entourage decided to make a pre-emptive strike before the UN's findings were made public.

Only in the city of Bujumbura, which is inhabited almost exclusively by Tutsis, has last Thursday's coup been widely welcomed. Even as the putsch was announced, fighting continued in the Hutu-dominated hinterland of the city.

The army's attempt to seize power in 1993 is seen as the beginning of the conflict which culminated in the recent slaughter of 350 Tutsis by Hutu rebels in central Burundi. Having been nearly lynched by an angry Tutsi mob at the funeral of the massacre victims, President Ntibantungaanya, a Hutu, sought refuge in the American ambassador's residence in Bujumbura early last week.

The government, a shaky coalition of Hutus and Tutsis, disintegrated when the mainly Tutsi Uprona party withdrew confidence from the President.

Amid growing rumours of an army coup, terrified Hutu ministers sought the protection of Western diplomats. As panic spread, the army proclaimed Mr Buyoya, a Tutsi former president, as interim leader and martial law was introduced.

n Arusha - Burundi's new military ruler, Mr Buyoya met East African leaders yesterday in order to seek support before a regional summit on the crisis in his country, Reuter reports.

Ugandan officials said the retired major had met President Yoweri Museveni in Kampalabefore heading for Butiama, Tanzania, where he met the internationally- backed mediator Julius Nyerere. He was also expected to go to Arusha to meet the Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa who is hosting a regional summit to decide on a plan of action after President Buyoya's coup last week.