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Burundi coup foiled, government says

President Pierre Buyoya came to power in a 1996 coup  

In this story:

Decades of ethnic conflict

'Mass looting' in Congo, U.N. says

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BUJUMBURA, Burundi (CNN) -- Burundi's army put down a coup attempt Wednesday by a group of junior army officers opposed to President Pierre Buyoya's negotiations with Hutu rebels, The Associated Press reported.

In a statement read on the independent Bonesha radio station, the army said 30 junior officers in the Tutsi dominated army were surrounded inside the studios of state-run Radio Burundi.

The announcement was attributed to Minister of Defense Cyrile Ndayirukiye.

Soldiers were stationed around the radio station in downtown Bujumbura, Burundi's capital. Streets were sealed off near the building, but residents walked calmly through downtown, discussing the coup attempt. No violence was reported.

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Fred Eckhard

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard: U.N. officials say a group called the Patriotic Youth announced the coup

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Christophe Nkurunziza, journalist: A group of soldiers want to change the situation in Burundi

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graphic Key Events in Burundi History

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The government announcement followed reports on state radio earlier Wednesday that a group of soldiers called the Patriotic Youth Front had overthrown Buyoya in a coup.

Buyoya was in neighboring Gabon for peace talks with the leader of the main rebel group fighting the government in Burundi's 7 1/2-year civil war. There were reports of some shooting in Bujumbura, Burundi's capital, but not heavy fighting.

The radio did not give details on the identity of the soldier group's leaders but declared a curfew effective at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), according to The Associated Press.

"The government which is killing people is over and the government of Buyoya is over now," Reuters reported the radio saying in a brief announcement in the Kirundi language.

Burundi peace mediator Nelson Mandela said on Wednesday, however, that Buyoya had told him that he was still in charge, according to Reuters.

"As far as President Pierre Buyoya's office is concerned, there is no coup in Burundi. Government activities have not been affected, but some armed men are occupying the radio station," Mandela's spokeswoman, Zelda la Grange, told Reuters.

La Grange said the former South African president had spoken to government officials in Bujumbura, and to Buyoya.

Decades of ethnic conflict

Burundi has been beset by civil war since October 1993 after Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the central African country's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu. Although in the minority, Tutsis have effectively controlled Burundi for all but four months since independence from Belgium in 1962.

Most of the war's more than 200,000 victims have been civilians, and fighting has intensified in recent months.

Buyoya, a Tutsi, took power in a coup in July 1996, promising to end the civil war. He signed a power-sharing agreement last August with Hutu opposition leaders, but the talks mediated by Mandela did not include the Hutu rebels fighting the Tutsi-dominated government.

There are 17 political parties participating in the power-sharing talks, 10 Tutsi and seven Hutu. Tutsi hard-liners have opposed any talks with the rebels, and rumors of a coup have been rampant since Buyoya signed the power-sharing agreement last August in Arusha, Tanzania, in the presence of U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The power-sharing plan called for an ethnically balanced army and legislature. But Hutu rebels have refused to endorse the agreement and have not attended peace talks.

'Mass looting' in Congo, U.N. says

Buyoya was expected to return to Burundi on Thursday. Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who was using his influence with the rebels to get them to the negotiating table, left Libreville, Gabon, on Wednesday.

Burundi has joined Rwanda and Uganda in assisting rebels fighting in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The assistance follows an August 1998 offensive launched against the DRC by Rwanda and Uganda and later joined by Burundi.

Earlier this week, the United Nations said Burundi had joined with Rwanda and Uganda in looting the natural resources of the DRC.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council, an investigatory panel outlined "mass-scale looting" of the eastern part of the DRC by forces from the three countries. The report described the invasion as a "very lucrative business."

The report gives detailed accounts of racketeering, plundering of mineral resources and the direct involvement of key military and civilian leaders.

Rwanda's ambassador to the United Nations has denied the allegations.



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RELATED SITE:
Burundi Home Page
Amnesty International: Burundi
Burundi - Consular Information Sheet

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