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Press Review: Is Burundi Poised To Follow Rwanda?

  • Don Hill

Prague, July 26 (RFE/RL) -- Reacting to a peace initiative they feared would weaken them, minority Tutsis and the army they dominate in the Central African nation of Burundi took over the government yesterday in the capital Bujumbura. This set off international fears of a genocidal conflict between Tutsis and Hutis like that in Rwanda two years ago.

More than half a million people died in the Rwanda conflict while the world--and their neighbors--watched in impotence.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Will the coup halt years of conflict, or escalate it?

Hugh Dellios writes today in an analysis: "The coup arrived quietly and methodically (yesterday) afternoon, as stern soldiers waving automatic weapons took up positions around the capital, blocking off key roads, stopping cars and ordering people to go home. . . . Burundians were huddled at home by the radio, listening to a government minister declare what many feared and others hoped for in this blood-spattered African nation. Burundi's Tutsi-led military had seized power from a civilian government, defying an outraged international community and raising the question of whether the coup would halt years of murderous conflict between Tutsis and Hutus--or escalate it.

"Military leaders. . . named a former army major and Tutsi president, Pierre Buyoya, as the country's new president. . . . Buyoya, regarded as a moderate, was installed over the ousted Hutu President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, who spent a second day hiding inside the U.S. ambassador's residence in Bujumbura. "

THE INDEPENDENT: In Western drawing rooms, Africa is becoming the "black continent"

The British newspaper says today in an editorial: " 'How the world is letting Burundi die'-- The phrasing expresses the sense of impotence and anger evoked by news, yet again, of massacre and impending anarchy in that so fertile yet so inhumane corner of Africa occupied by the nations of Rwanda and Burundi. . . . Intervention under Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter--to make the peace by force--implies breakdown in indigenous structures (but) Burundi, like its northern neighbor Rwanda, lacks the infrastructure of politics as we know it--arenas for negotiation, the space for some compact between parties and tribes, between army and government, between executive and legislature. . . . Of late, a certain fatalism has become the fashion about Africa, or at least large swathes of the continent; once again it is being referred to as 'the black continent' in Western drawing-rooms."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nations can determine to prevent another Rwanda

In an editorial yesterday, paper said: "The festering crisis in Burundi is of a kind that sorely tests the wisdom and capacity of outsiders. As in neighboring Rwanda, Hutu comprise 85 percent of Burundi's population, while nearly all the rest are Tutsi. . . . Burundi is bankrupt after years of civil strife, and Western donors have cut off aid. Moderates within Burundi hope that even a minimum of stability will lead to an economic revival and renewal of foreign help. . . . For the moment, with the president in limbo, the policy choices are still unclear. But with 1.7 million Rwandan refugees already languishing in nearby camps, other nations can make plain their determination to prevent another Rwanda from bleeding Central Africa and shaming the world."

WASHINGTON POST: Tutsis and Hutus have struggled for power for decades

Writer Stephen Buckley says today: "The coup d'etat was widely expected. . . . Although bloodless, it effectively destroyed a fragile experiment in democratic coalition government in this central African country, which long has been riven by ethnic hatred between its dominant Tutsi minority and an 85 percent Hutu majority. . . . The military's takeover was roundly condemned around the world. But there was no immediate sign anyone was preparing to do anything concrete about it. . . . The coup marked the fourth successful overthrow of a Burundian regime since the country's independence from Belgium in 1962. . . . The nation's Tutsis and Hutus have struggled for political and economic power for decades. Tutsis have generally controlled most of the country's institutions since Burundi gained independence from Belgium in 1962."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: World leaders refuse to recognize the new government

In today's edition, Bob Drogin writes: "The Tutsi-led army defied world leaders. . . . The putsch was apparently bloodless but the deepening crisis, which further entrenched the Tutsi minority in power, clearly worsened chances for peaceful resolution of the bitter Tutsi-Hutu conflict that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives since 1993. . . . In Washington, the Clinton administration refused to recognize Buyoya as president. . . . At the United Nations, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said the world community will not acquiesce in the coup. . . . Salim Salim, head of the Organization of African Unity, said 'any attempt to take over power by illegal means will not be accepted by Africa and will be met by force.' "

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Both sides say they will attack a peacekeeping force

Donald G. McNeil Jr. writes today: "Disintegration of the (government) coalition has been blamed largely on the fallout from a request made by the Hutu president and his Tutsi prime minister at a peace conference in Arusha, Tanzania, asking for an African peacekeeping force to help halt the bloodshed in Burundi. Several countries, including Zambia and Tanzania, offered to join a peacekeeping force. But both Burundi leaders were immediately criticized by their political parties, and subsequent disagreement fractured the weak multiparty coalition. Both the Tutsi-led army and Hutu rebel groups say they would attack any peacekeeping force that entered without their permission. Militant Tutsi officers said it was a plot to weaken the army so genocide could go on unchecked."

THE FINANCIAL TIMES: Tutsis should try compromise to avoid extermination

"The army's action is a direct challenge to the United States, the UN Security Council and the Organization of African Unity, all of which have said they will not recognize a Burundian government installed by illegal means," the British newspaper editorializes today. "The OAU secretary general even said such an attempt would be met 'by force.' . . .Such threats are hardly convincing. . . . Diplomatic isolation, a more plausible threat, would in itself do little to prevent further slaughter. The Tutsis have to be persuaded somehow that they have a far better chance of avoiding extermination through genuine compromise with the majority than by seeking to perpetuate minority rule."