- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

BUJUMBURA, Burundi — The Burundian army yesterday put down a coup attempt by junior army officers, who seized the radio station while President Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, was outside the country for peace talks with Hutu rebels.

Loyalist soldiers surrounded the radio station in downtown Bujumbura, Burundi´s capital, where the army said 30 junior officers were holed up. Streets were sealed off near the building, but residents walked calmly through downtown while discussing the coup attempt. No violence was reported.

Stanislaw Nakaha, chief of security in Burundi, said Bujumbura was calm and that Mr. Buyoya was expected back today after peace talks in Libreville, Gabon.

In Gabon, Mr. Buyoya, a former army major, met the head of the main Hutu rebel group in Burundi´s 71/2-year war to try to persuade him to join power-sharing talks. But Tutsi hard-liners in the Central African nation have opposed talks with the rebels, and rumors of a coup have been rampant.

The group of officers from the Tutsi-dominated military, calling themselves the Patriotic Youth Front, took over the radio station at 4:30 p.m. After the guard fled, the soldiers played a tape announcing Mr. Buyoya´s removal from office, the dissolution of the National Assembly and closure of the airport. The statement was attributed to Lt. Gaston Ntakarutimana. Officials had never heard of the group.

Lt. Ntakarutimana was a commander at the Gakumbo military camp, which is responsible for protecting the airport, and the soldiers who took over the radio station were under his command.

But the army surrounded the station and declared it had put down the coup in a statement read on independent Benesha radio, attributed to Minister of Defense Cyrile Ndayirukiye. The statement said troops would not storm the radio station because they did not want to spark violence.

Mr. Buyoya was in a meeting with South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma in Libreville when news of the coup was broadcast, a spokesman said.

Mr. Buyoya seized power in a coup in July 1996 after yielding in 1993 to Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu who defeated the Tutsi leader in an election.

Several months later, Mr. Ndadaye was assassinated and his slaying triggered a civil war that has left more than 200,000 people dead.

Mr. Buyoya staged his coup with a promise to end the conflict.

In August, he signed a power-sharing deal with several Hutu opposition leaders. But armed Hutu rebels have stayed away from subsequent talks, which have been mediated by former South African President Nelson Mandela. Hutus make up the overwhelming majority of Burundi´s population, but Tutsis have controlled the army and economy for centuries.

Since independence from Belgium in 1962, the Tutsis have controlled the government for all but four months of the country´s history.

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