"We're going to fight to the death and we're going to win," one group sang yesterday. "Let us fight. They provoked us."
The identity of "them" is not in doubt amongst those watching the demonstrators, members of the minority Tutsi community. "They" are the Hutu extremists who massacre Tutsis in the lush and fertile hills of this central African nation. "They" are the Hutu killers who slaughtered more than 300 inhabitants of a remote, mainly Tutsi settlement at Bugendena in central Burundi this weekend. "They" are the people the protesters believe will butcher every Tutsi, given half a chance.
About 85 per cent of Burundi's 6 million people are Hutu but the Tutsi minority has traditionally held power and dominated the army. In Rwanda, where the ethnic mix is similar, Hutus slaughtered half a million Tutsis in 1994; the Tutsis struck back, sending hundreds of thousands of Hutus into exile, many to Burundi.
Burundi already has its own civil war. More than 150,000 have been killed in ethnic violence since the first democratically elected Hutu president was assassinated in 1993. But now, as the violence rapidly escalates, there are fears that Burundi, like Rwanda, will witness genocide. Bujumbura is now a Tutsi town, having been "cleansed" of almost all its Hutu inhabitants by the Tutsi-dominated army last year. Amid much bloodshed, the Hutus were driven into the hills and into camps, such as the squalid Johnson Centre, on the outskirts of the city.
At least two Rwandan Hutu refugees died of suffocation yesterday after Burundi's army crammed them in container trucks and forced them back into their homeland, a UN official said. The deportations followed the Hutu massacre of Tutsis in central Burundi .
The youths in Bujumbura are protesting against the proposed intervention of African peace-keeping troops whose deployment in Burundi was agreed at a regional summit in Tanzania last month. The initiative, which the West and the Organisation of African Unity support, is seen by many as Burundi's only hope for peace.
But Tutsi youths see things differently. "Extremist Hutu elements could finish their genocidal mission under the cover of a regional force," says Oscar Nyanawi, a university student leader. "Foreign intervention threatens Burundi's sovereignty. If the army hasn't got the manpower, it should call up all young people."
Equally opposed to foreign intervention are Hutu extremist groups, such as the CNDD and its rebel militia the FDD, which is being held responsible for the killings at Bugendena.
Hutu rebels, members of the former Rwandan army, overthrown by Tutsi insurgents in 1994, are spoiling for a showdown to settle the score. They have been infiltrating Rwanda and Burundi from the refugee camps in Zaire where they are based. Every month hundreds of Burundians are killed in ethnic fighting.
Some are murdered by Hutu extremists similar to those who descended on Bugendena. Others are killed by the largely Tutsi army whose "cleansing operations" against Hutu communities are often violent.
The students taking part in the demonstrations say their movement is apolitical. They say they only carry batons "pour s'encourager", to give themselves encouragement.
There are many, however, who believe the youths are organised by Tutsi extremists. Principal among these hard-liners is a former president, Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, who has been calling for strikes and civil disobedience to resist foreign intervention. The UN has repeatedly talked about bringing an international peace-keeping force to stop the bloodshed in Burundi.
But this year it became clear the West had lost its appetite for intervening in Africa. UN operations in Somali and Rwanda ended in failure and few world leaders want to ensnare themselves in Burundi's politics.Reuse content