Mandela hails peace deal as genocide stalks Burundians

Declan Walsh
Thursday 01 May 2003 00:00
Comments

Africa's Godfather of peace, Nelson Mandela, flew to Burundi yesterday to bless an historic transfer of power, even though the country is in the grip of a worsening war and civilian atrocities.

Pierre Buyoya, of the minority Tutsis, handed the presidency to Domitien Nzayizeye, a Hutu, as his part of a peace deal to end 10 years of war. "I swear to fight against genocide," he said, referring to the waves of ethnic violence that have convulsed the central African state for nearly 30 years.

Mr Mandela, who patiently stewarded the torturous negotiations, described it as "a great day for Burundi". But if the old man looked frail as he shuffled across the sweaty hall, so do the political accords.

A five-month ceasefire with the main Hutu rebel group, the Force for the Defence of Democracy, is in tatters. Ten days ago the FDD shelled Bujumbura, Burundi's capital, for three days, killing up to 20 and hitting the Defence Minister's house.

Speaking by phone from Libreville, the capital of Gabon, the FDD leader, Peter Nkurunziza, told The Independent he would suspend attacks only if the Tutsi-led army disarmed. Otherwise, he said, the result would be "catastrophic".

Analysts believe Mr Nkurun-ziza is touring west Africa to raise money for fresh fighting. Some fear it could lead to a new wave of genocidal killings. "If the rebels launch an assault [the Tutsi elite] would be completely cut off from Rwanda and Tanzania. This is the plan. It is a genocidal agenda," said one respected observer, who requested anonymity. Western aid agencies have had to scale back their operations drastically, with most international staff retreating to Bujumbura. The British agency Tearfund has withdrawn entirely.

And in the countryside, far from the politicians' fine words, ordinary Hutus and Tutsis lead lives of misery and intense fear. As evening falls, hundreds of peasants scurry through the dusky gloom into the eastern town of Ruyigi. Since February the swelling FDD forces have filtered in from refugee camps in neighbouring Tanzania. They survive by raiding villages.

At night the villagers hurry to town for a safe sleeping place in churches, houses, even outdoors. They bring cattle, goats, pots and – in the case of one man delicately balancing a load on his head – his bed. Hurrying her goats along with an umbrella, Marie Bugusu said the rebels attacked three weeks earlier, raping three women and a girl of 13.

The pews were stacked up in the Pentecostal church, where about 250 women and children bedded down by candlelight on the concrete floor. Outside, the men slept with the cattle alongside a clutch of army soldiers.

The atrocities cut both ways. In January an army terror squad massacred up to 80 Hutu peasants in nearby Mwegereza, after an FDD attack. Aid workers were forbidden to visit the area afterwards for "security reasons". "I did my own inquiries [into the attacks]," said the district commander, Major Mathias Ndikumana, in his Ruyigi camp. "Up to now we don't know who was responsible".

The new President, Mr Nzayizeye, prides himself as a common man who once survived by selling everything from peanuts to moonshine. Mr Buyoya once jailed him. But for many Hutus he is just a figurehead for Tutsi dominance. Although they number just 15 per cent of the population, Tutsis have held a steel grip on power for most of the past 30 years. Crucially, they still retain a stranglehold on the army.

The omens for Mr Nzayizeye are not good. The first Hutu president was assassinated in 1993 by Tutsi paratroops. The second was killed six months later in an aircraft explosion in Rwanda. The third, Sylvestre Ntibantunganye, was ousted by the army in 1996.

Presidential portraits of the three men hang on Mr Nzayizeye's living room wall. "We are the three Hutu Musketeers," he said wryly. But much had changed since then, he added. "Many Tutsis realise this country is ungovernable without Hutu participation."

More than 100 South African troops are in Bujumbura, the advance guard of a 3,000-strong peace-keeping deployment. The mission, which should be fully deployed by August, is the first for the African Union.

But for now, there is little peace to keep. And in towns like Ruyigi, the old fears remain. Putting her child to bed in the church, Leconde Ntahomumkiye whispered that she had heard rumours of machetes being distributed among Hutu extremists. "They say the races will attack each other again," she said. "I don't know much about politics. But this makes me very afraid."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in