Burundi coup attempt falters, army says
BUJUMBURA, Burundi (CNN) -- Troops loyal to President Pierre Buyoya appeared to have put down a coup attempt by disaffected comrades Wednesday while the leader was out of the country.
Burundi's Defense Ministry said a group of junior officers seized control of state radio and television Wednesday and announced they had overthrown the government.
But government troops surrounded the radio station and eventually regained control, the government said.
There was some shooting in the capital Bujumbura but not heavy fighting, journalist Christolph Nkurunziza told CNN. Buyoya visiting neighboring Gabon at the time for peace talks backed by South Africa with an ethnic Hutu rebel movement.
Burundian army Col. Augustin Nzabampema said only about 40 people appeared to be involved in the coup attempt. "The mutineers have started to surrender to loyalists," Nzabampema told Reuters Wednesday night.
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zumi, visiting Washington on Wednesday, condemned the coup attempt.
"We don't believe in coups. We think people should come to power through proper democratic elections," she said. "But obviously, in Burundi, it's got a particular significance in the sense that we are worried that it may put the peace process backwards."
U.S. officials reported the coup leaders had announced a suspension of the government and national assembly and a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
"Best of our knowledge at this time, none of these actions have actually been implemented," State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said. He said the capital city of Bujumbura "appears to be calm."
Decades of ethnic conflict
Burundi is a landlocked country of 6 million people located east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although in the minority, Tutsis have effectively controlled Burundi for all but four months since independence from Belgium in 1962.
The nation 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. Fighting in the 1990s between the Tutsis and Hutus has claimed at least 250,000 lives, according to U.S. estimates.
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.
The Associated Press reported that the group of junior officers involved in Wednesday's coup attempt opposed Buyoya's negotiations with Hutu rebels.
'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 denied the allegations.
Burundi state radio says government overthrown
Burundi Home Page
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