Antoine Nduwayo told the Independent in an exclusive interview yesterday that he now resolutely opposes plans for a multinational peace-keeping force in Burundi.
"Intervention from outside is not desirable," Mr Nduwayo said, before an emergency session of his cabinet in the capital, Bujumbura. "An intervention force could not prevent more massacres. In fact it could ... make the situation here much worse."
The Prime Minister's remarks mark a dramatic reversal. Only a month ago he agreed to an African peace-keeping force at a regional summit in Tanzania.
Mr Nduwayo said a peace-keeping force would not have prevented the massacre at the weekend of more than 300 members of the minority Tutsi community in central Burundi. His government would now provide greater security for encampments of displaced Tutsis, such as the one attacked at Bugendena on Saturday.
Today the Prime Minister, himself a Tutsi, will attend the mass burial of the massacre victims in the remote hills of central Burundi. Many believe the last hope of peace for the tiny African nation will disappear into the grave alongside the blood-soaked bodies.
The massacre at Bugendena is being blamed on extremists among the majority Hutu group. There are fears that the Tutsi-dominated army will exact a terrible revenge for the killings and that Burundi will descend into an irreversible cycle of violence similar to the one in neighbouring Rwanda two years ago.
Under pressure from the international community, Mr Nduwayo was persuaded to join President Sylvestre Ntibantunganga, a Hutu, in agreeing that only outside assistance could save Burundi. Signing the intervention accord was seen as a significant breakthrough in bringing peace to Burundi. Under its terms, a force of Ugandan, Tanzanian and Ethiopian peace-keepers would have moved into Burundi as soon as deployment details were agreed by Burundi's government, a fragile coalition of Hutu and Tutsi parties.
There have been signs that the Prime Minister's resolve was beginning to falter in face of mounting pressure from the army and from the Tutsi community. On the streets of Bujumbura during the past week, thousands of Tutsi youths have been protesting against intervention. They fear it will neutralise the army and open the way for genocide by Hutu extremists. Yesterday hordes of youths brandishing sticks ran through the capital, chanting slogans against intervention.
The massacre at Bugendena seems to have swept away any lingering doubts in the Prime Minister's mind about foreign assistance. Without his support the peace plan cannot succeed. Unless the other members of the National Security Council persuade Mr Nduwayo to change his mind, the intervention accord appears to be in tatters and Burundi is on its own.
"The events at Bugendena have given rise to heightened emotions in Bujumbura and elsewhere," said Mr Nduwayo, who is under pressure from Tutsi hardliners to resign. "These could be exploited by the extremists. The militias will only become more active if there is an intervention force."
As he spoke, more than 7,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees were fleeing northwards towards Rwanda, having been evicted from their camp in northern Burundi by the authorities. By yesterday afternoon, about 5,500 refugees had crossed over the border into Rwanda and an unknown number was said to have taken to the hills.
About 85,000 Rwandan Hutus have been living in Burundi since the war which ended the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They are seen as a source of instability by Burundi's government. It says it will now close all four camps in the north of the country. Rwandan Hutus from refugee camps in neighbouring Zaire have been accused of organising the killings at Bugendena.
The expulsion of the Hutu refugees and the massacre of Tutsis at Bugendena mark a new and frightening degree of polarisation between Burundi's two communities. With proposals for a peace-keeping force close to collapse, there is little to prevent an escalation of the conflict in which hundreds of civilians are dying each month.Reuse content