History of ethnic tension between Hutus and Tutsis in one of world's poorest countries


These are some key facts about Burundi, which was yesterday in the throes of a coup, after a massacre at the weekend in which more than 300 civilians died.

POPULATION: An estimated 5.6 million. The largest tribe is the Hutu, who account for about 85 per cent. The Tutsi make up about 15 per cent. There are small numbers of the pygmy Twa.

Hutus and Tutsis speak the same language.

Discrimination in favour of the Tutsis assured them control of government and army for most of the time since independence from Belgium in 1962.

RELIGION: More than 60 per cent of the people are Christian, mostly Catholic. The rest mainly follow traditional religions, although 1 per cent of the population is Muslim.

CAPITAL: Bujumbura, population about 180,000. Most Burundians live in the densely populated countryside.

ARMED FORCES: The army has about 22,000 men. The 150-man air force has three combat aircraft while a navy of 50 men has three patrol boats. There is also a 1,500-man gendarmerie. Tutsis dominate the security forces.

ECONOMY: It is one of the world's poorest countries with per capita income estimated by the World Bank at $259 (pounds 170) a year.

HISTORY: Tribal hatred has exploded several times since independence. An estimated 100,000 people, mainly Hutus, were massacred in 1972.

Burundi was governed by Tutsi military men after Captain Michel Micombero overthrew King Ntare V in 1966. Micombero ended the system of alternately appointing Hutu and Tutsi prime ministers and helped the Tutsis consolidate control. Micombero was overthrown in 1976 by Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, whose 1977 land reforms put an end to Tutsi feudal overlords. Pierre Buyoya, who ousted Bagaza in a bloodless coup in 1987, named a Cabinet divided between the two tribes, giving Hutus their first real voice in government in 20 years and naming the first Hutu premier since 1965.

In the first free elections, in 1993, he was beaten by Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu who garnered most of the votes of his majority tribe allowed to vote for the first time. But elements in the Tutsi army refused to accept a Hutu leader and they staged a failed coup in October 1993, assassinating Ndadaye and other leading Hutus.

Ndadaye's murder unleashed a wave of Hutu- Tutsi slaughter throughout Burundi in which up to 50,000 people were killed.

Cyprien Ntaryamira, a Hutu who succeeded Ndadaye, was killed on 6 April 1994 along with Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in a rocket attack on their plane. Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, a Hutu, became interim president from April and was sworn in as president in September 1994 in a power-sharing deal called the Convention.

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