Hutus' rage grows against Burundi's new Tutsi ruler

Far from heralding a new era of peace, last week's military coup looks likely to worsen the bloodshed, writes David Orr
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The Independent Online
Bujumbura - In Burundi's capital they are celebrating the new order heralded by a military coup last week. This is a Tutsi town, having been almost entirely "cleansed" of Hutus by the army last year.

Outside the city, however, a very different picture is emerging of life under the new President, Pierre Buyoya. It is not so much that things are better or worse in the war-torn central African country. It is more a question of business as usual - attacks by rebels among the Hutu majority against Tutsis and reprisals against Hutus by the Tutsi-led army.

There have been reports of more than 100 people killed near Gitega in central Burundi at the weekend, after troops moved in to quell unrest. Most of the dead are said to have been Hutus.

At about the same time last Thursday that the Defence Minister was telling the nation that the army was installing a new president to bring peace, a young man was being stabbed to death in the outskirts of the capital. As the military coup was unfolding in Bujumbura, soldiers from the Tutsi minority were creating havoc in a community of Hutus just below the hills which dominate the city.

A grenade had been thrown earlier in the day, killing a Tutsi trader who was bringing beer to the market. The response was brutal. Soldiers moved through the Muyaga neighbourhood, shooting the Hutu inhabitants. According to reports, up to 20 Hutu civilians were murdered.

"I was trying to get back to my home but the army had cut off my usual route so I took a detour through an area I normally wouldn't go to", said a Hutu school teacher.

"Our vehicle was stopped by troops. I looked out of the window and saw a youth being held down on the ground by his arms and legs. Young men from a Tutsi militia group were hacking at him with knives. Soldiers were standing by, looking on. I looked away and pretended I'd seen nothing. We were allowed to go and drove away".

Yesterday I visited the community, where about 4,500 Hutus live in squalor at a camp known as the Johnson Centre. In recent days I have been turned back by the army as I have tried to visit areas where repressive army operations against Hutus have been reported by aid agencies.

As I moved through the market stalls, groups of Hutus stood about, looking tense. I had been told by a Hutu contact that the graves of the victims could be found a short distance away towards the Buhonga hills. But as I and my guide proceeded up a path to the hills, we were surrounded by six heavily-armed soldiers who started berating the guide for having led me there. Then we were turned around and escorted back towards a military post.

"You must not go up there", the commander said. "It is too dangerous for you. You could be attacked by rebels. You may look around the market, but go no further."

Having left the soldiers, we found a group of Hutu men sitting in the shade of a tree. Soon a large crowd of people had assembled. They confirmed reports of military operations against Hutus in the nearby hills.

"I fled here for safety yesterday", said Berthe Barampanirana, a middle- aged woman with closely-cropped hair. "The troops came onto our colline [hill], which is called Nyambuye. They arrived early in the morning and started shooting. Nearly everyone on the colline ran away. I've heard there were many people shot. This happens all the time".

The woman said her husband and one of her children had been killed by soldiers when the army staged a failed coup in 1993. Like many Hutus, she saw the events of three years ago as the start of the army's drive to establish Tutsi dominance.

When asked about the coup which last week returned former President Pierre Buyoya to power, the group laughed bitterly. The new regime would not improve their lives, they said.They were Hutus and the Tutsis were dedicated to killing the majority of the population.

"They want to wipe us out so they can win when there are elections", one angry man said. "The new leaders might talk peace but nothing has changed. The army is in charge and will continue to make our lives a misery".

Our guide warned of an increasingly violent Hutu rebel response to the new regime. He said the Hutus had been radicalised since the coup and that opposition to Mr Buyoya would harden in the coming months.

"There are many young men who have left this area to join the rebels", said the young professional, whose wife last year fled to neighbouring Zaire.

"I know of almost 40 students who have recently left for the bush. They are training in the hills around here. It's understandable that people feel angry when the army seizes power like this".

The military is keen to publicise attacks on Tutsi settlements, but keeps quiet about itsbrutal operations in the Hutu-dominated countryside. Under such conditions, it is hard to uncover the whole story.