Although there are no reliable data, it is estimated that about 85 percent of the population is Hutu, and 15 percent is Tutsi. A third group, the Twa, constitutes less than one percent. These groups are usually called "ethnic groups" although they share the same culture, history and language (a language of the Bantu family, Kirundi, almost identical to the one spoken in Rwanda), and cannot be distinguished with any accuracy, even by the Burundians themselves, through physical or other characteristics. A person belongs to the same ethnic group as his or her father. Intermarriage between Hutus and Tutsis has traditionally been common.
The dictator Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, a Hima Tutsi officer, overthrew President Micombero in 1976 and who, like him, led a one-party Government that drew support from the Eastern Block. However, no ethnic massacres took place under his rule. Except for its international political alignment, Buyoya's regime did not differ substantially at first from those of his predecessors.
Bagaza was president of a military regime in Burundi after being appointed by the Supreme Revolutionary Council. Bagaza was reelected in 1984 as President of a one-party state, the Union of National Progress (UPRONA). His reign was marked by a deteriorating human rights record as he supressed religious activities and arrested oposition members.
Bagaza was in turn overthrown by yet another Hima Tutsi officer, Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Buyoya, in 1987. Buyoya who suspended the 1981 constitution, all the state organs, banned all oposition parties, as well as UPRONA, and instituted a ruling Military Committee for National Salvation (CSMN). Since coming to power, Major Pierre Buyoya began efforts to alleviate this domination, combat corruption, release political prisoners, normalize church-state relations, increase Hutu representation at the cabinet level, introduce macroeconomic reforms, and make known his intention to introduce other reforms benefitting the Hutu majority.
Increasing tensions between ruling Tutsis and majority Hutus led to violence between the army, the Hutu oposition, and Tutsi hardliners. In 1988, Hutus massacred several hundred Tutsis in two northern communes adjoining Rwanda, Ntega and Marangara, in what is now the northern Province of Kirundo. The repression by the Army was brutal and indiscriminate. Several thousand Hutus were killed and tens of thousands fled to Rwanda.
In mid-August an outbreak of ethnic conflict in northern Burundi at Ntega reportedly resulted in the deaths of at least several hundred people, and possibly many more, including a significant number of innocent Tutsi. The Government of Burundi reportedly responded to the killings at Ntega by dispatching 2 army battalions, comprised almost exclusively of Tutsi soldiers and equipped with machine guns, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers, to restore order in the tense northern localities of Ntega and Marangara, where they reportedly engaged in the killing of between 5,000 and 20,000 Hutu, many of them innocent civilians.
Stavenhagen has described the horror of the Tutsi massacres of the Hutus in Burundi in 1972 this way: “Within hours of its outbreak, a reign of terror was unleashed by Hutu upon the Tutsi, and then on an even more appalling scale by Tutsi upon Hutu. The killings went on unabated for several months. By then almost every educated Hutu element was either dead or in exile. Some conservative estimates put the total number of [Hutu] lives lost at 100,000, others at 200,000. Approximately 150,000 Hutu refugees fled to neighboring territories.“
During the conflict an estimated 150,000 people were killed and thousands of refugees fled to neighboring countries. The violence prompted Buyoya to start a commission to investigate the causes of the unrest and look into democratic reform. International reaction to the repression led Buyoya to liberalize his regime and allow Hutu political participation without, however, modifying the one party system. A Hutu Prime Minister was appointed and a large proportion of Hutus occupied important posts, including those of cabinet minister and provincial governor.
While the liberalization process was progressing, a clandestine Hutu party, the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People, PALIPEHUTU, carried out an attack against Army posts and Tutsi civilians in the Provinces of Cibitoke, which borders both on Rwanda and Zaire, and in Bubanza and Bujumbura, which border on Zaire. Several hundred people were killed. The repression, in which hundreds if not thousands of Hutus died was, however, less indiscriminate than in the past.
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