Army ‘purge’ fol­lows failed coup in Bu­rundi

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY ESDRAS NDIKUMANA

Once a sym­bol of eth­nic unity in post-civil war Bu­rundi, the army is now deeply di­vided and faces a grow­ing cli­mate of fear af­ter a failed coup by gen­er­als in the cen­tral African na­tion.

Bu­rundi was plunged into cri­sis when Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza an­nounced a con­tro­ver­sial bid for a third term in April, lead­ing to deadly street protests and an at­tempted coup in mid-May, which laid bare po­lit­i­cal splits within the mil­i­tary.

Coup leader Gen. Gode­froid Niy­ombare is now on the run, De­fense Min­is­ter Cyrille Ndayirukiye has been ar­rested and hun­dreds of other al­leged coup plot­ters are ab­scond­ing or in jail.

Of­fi­cers now fear the army is be­ing purged along eth­nic lines.

“I can­not sleep, I can­not eat, I al­most fled the coun­try sev­eral times,” said one se­nior of­fi­cer, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, adding that he has twice evaded ar­rest.

The of­fi­cer is a for­mer mem­ber of the pre-civil war army, the FAB, which was dom­i­nated by eth­nic Tut­sis and pit­ted against a host of Hutu rebel groups in the 1993-2006 civil war.

Of­fi­cers are wor­ried that Tutsi ex-FAB mem­bers are now be­ing specif­i­cally purged, tar­geted on the pre­text that they were com­plicit in the at­tempted putsch.

“No sol­dier of the for­mer FAB, from pri­vate to gen­eral, feels safe,” said the of­fi­cer, de­spite the fact that both Hu­tus and Tut­sis are among the al­leged coup plot­ters on the run or in jail.

Coup leader Niy­ombare — who rel­a­tives and in­tel­li­gence sources say has sought refuge else­where in the re­gion — is a Hutu, who fought along­side Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza in the CNDD-FDD Hutu rebel group that is now the rul­ing party.

About 150 mem­bers of the 11th Bat­tal­ion, ac­cused of spear­head­ing May’s coup at­tempt, are in jail but sources say that per­haps 300 oth­ers from the same unit have ab­sconded with their weapons.

For two weeks, ar­rests have been in­creas­ing, with most of those de­tained for­mer FAB sol­diers, among them two colonels, a ma­jor and a cap­tain, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Pro­tec­tion of Pris­on­ers and De­tainees, which said other of­fi­cers had gone miss­ing.

“We, the for­mer FAB, are the only ones tar­geted, while those from the CNDD-FDD are not wor­ried,” said an­other of­fi­cer, re­fer­ring to the pres­i­dent’s party.

‘Destroying in­te­gra­tion’

The eth­nic par­ity of the army — made up of equal num­bers of Hutu and Tutsi in a coun­try where the pop­u­la­tion is 85 per­cent Hutu — is con­sid­ered a fun­da­men­tal achieve­ment of peace and a guar­an­tee of sta­bil­ity.

The wounds in­flicted on the army by the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis will be slow to heal and the con­se­quences for Bu­rundi could be ex­plo­sive.

Army spokesman Gas­pard Baratuza in­sisted that “only those who are sus­pected of in­volve­ment in the at­tempted coup are ar­rested.”

But an out­side an­a­lyst dis­missed the claim with a stark warn­ing over the grow­ing di­vi­sions.

“The regime is destroying one of Nku­run­z­iza’s great­est achieve­ments since tak­ing of­fice: the in­te­gra­tion of for­mer Hutu rebels and Tutsi ex­sol­diers,” the un­named an­a­lyst said.

For­mer De­fense Min­is­ter Pon­tien Gaciyub­wenge, an ex-FAB Tutsi gen­eral, pro­claimed his neu­tral­ity dur­ing the coup and was sacked soon af­ter­wards, and then fled abroad.

“The day they re­ally divide the army, it will not be like th­ese protests we have ex­pe­ri­enced,” the of­fi­cer said. “That will be the end of Bu­rundi as a na­tion.”

AFP

A boy helps to con­trol a fire as he stands on the roof in the com­pound of a house that was set on fire by pro­test­ers op­posed to the Burundian Pres­i­dent’s third term in Butagazwa, Mu­gongo­manga on Fri­day. The house be­longed to Diodeme Nd­abahinyuye.

AFP

Sol­diers run from a house set ablaze by pro­test­ers op­posed to the Burundian pres­i­dent’s bid to stand for a third term in Butagazwa, Mu­gongo­manga, some 30 kilo­me­ters east of Bu­jum­bura on Fri­day, June 5. The house be­longed to Diodeme Nd­abahinyuye, vice chair­man of the Na­tional Coun­cil for the De­fense of Democ­racy — Forces for the De­fense of Democ­racy (CNDD-FDD) rul­ing party Mu­gongo­manga com­mu­nity di­vi­sion.

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