Although Hutus encompass the majority of the population, historically Tutsis were politically and economically dominant. While 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.
In 1991 a constitution was approved that allowed for a president, parliament, and multi-ethnic government, and in 1993 Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu of the Hutu-dominated FRODEBU Party, was elected president. He was Burundi's first Hutu president, which is significant since the largely Hutu country had previously been controlled by the minority Tutsis. But in October 1993 he was assassinated by members of the Tutsi-dominated armed forces, which led to civil war in Burundi. This triggered the start of a long-running conflict between the army and Hutu rebel groups.
Since 1993, ethnic confrontation between Tutsis and Hutus grew in intensity. Members of each "ethnic" group felt that they were collectively engaged in a death struggle against extermination or subjection. This situation fosters feelings of "ethnic loyalty", that leads most members of a group to conceal, or justify as defensive, any action, however atrocious, done by members of their own group, to exaggerate or even invent atrocities committed by members of the opposing group, and to condemn objectivity or moderation as traitorous.
A military coup took place in Bujumbura on Thursday, 21 October 1993, in the course of which President Ndadaye, a Hutu, was assassinated by factions of the Tutsi-dominated armed forces. News of the coup was broadcast by Radio Rwanda early in the morning of Thursday, 21 October. On the same day, through most of the country, trees were felled and bridges cut to bar the roads. In many places young and adult Tutsi males were gathered as hostages, as well as some UPRONA Hutus. In the evening, the killing of hostages began. In the early evening, Radio Rwanda announced the death of President Ndadaye.
The assassination of President Ndadaye, as well as that of the person constitutionally entitled to succeed him, was planned beforehand as an integral part of the coup that overthrew him, and that the planning and execution of the coup was carried out by officers highly placed in the line of command of the Burundian Army.
On Friday and Saturday 22-13 October 1993, while the committee attempted negotiations with the members of the Government that had taken refuge in the embassies, the killing of hostages went on and spread to the killing of entire Tutsi families. Hutus cut the roads with felled trees, and they captured and tied up Tutsi men and youths. Hutus went out into the to gather Tutsi men and concentrate them in different points. Tutsi women and children who had not fled were killed. Tutsi witnesses testified that they had been saved by Hutus. Other Tutsis were killed and thrown in ditches. The killings went on in some places for several days. There are many contradictions between the witnesses regarding details.
When the soldiers arrived, they hunted and killed many Hutus, and fired indiscriminately at the Hutu population in the surrounding areas. Armored cars were used to shoot indiscriminately at the Hutu population. While the Army repressed the Hutus, it progressively unblocked the roads. On the evening of Saturday 23, the reinstatement of the civilian Government was announced, and the next day the authorities, working together with both political parties and the Army, attempted to put an end to the carnage in the country.
An estimated 300,000 people were killed and many more were forced to flee. It was during the period of 21 to 24 October 1993 that most of the violence took place. The first measure of the Government was to proceed to the pacification of the country by a country wide effort carried out jointly by the civilian authorities, the political leaders and the military. This effort succeeded in putting a stop to most large scale killings, although violence went on in areas beyond its reach and, indeed, never entirely ceased.
Not all provinces of Burundi were equally afflicted by the violence. Some areas, particularly in the south, where the Tutsis are proportionally more numerous, were comparatively unaffected by violence.
By 1994 Tutsis lived in the provincial capitals and in camps for displaced persons, under Army protection. In most communes, only Hutus remained in the countryside. Hutus who still live in the towns or come to market show constant fear. Tutsis from the camps went out in the daytime to farm in the adjoining hills (some of which had been cleansed of Hutus) and return to their camps before nightfall.
FRODEBU regained control and Cyprien Ntaryamira was elected president in January of 1994. Only four months later, Ntayamira and Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarmira were killed when their plane was shot down near Kigali. This launched the begining of the brutal Rwandan genocide, and events of a similar scale did not occur in Burundi, it helped to exacerbate the violence.
Sylvestre Ntibantuganya, also a FRODEBU Hutu became president on April 8, but this did little to help the situation, if anything, especially since Burndi had to deal with thousands of refugees from Rwanda, as well as armed Hutu and Tutsi insurgents in Burundi itself.
Ntibantunganya continued the bi-partisan Government established by his predecessor. Negotiations between the parties went on with the encouragement of the United Nations, resulting in the adoption, on 10 September 1994, of a pact, the "Convention de Gouvernement", which provided for the exercise of shared power between the two main political parties for the rest of the presidential term.
In spite of this pact, however, the situation deteriorated steadily. Some Tutsi factions, notably the PARENA ("Parti pour le redressement national") led by ex-President Bagaza, refused to take part, while a sector from the FRODEBU, led by Léonard Nyangoma, a Hutu, rejected it and created the "Conseil national de défense de la démocratie", CNDD, to oppose it. As a result of violent action by Tutsi youth militias, and with the tolerance when not the active participation of the armed forces, violent ethnic clashes went on in Bujumbura, resulting in the expulsion of almost all the Hutu population from the city.
In the interior, Tutsi survivors of the massacres remained in camps in a condition of hardship, unable to regain their former homes. The Forces de défense de la démocratie (FDD), the armed wing of the CNDD, began a guerilla war, attacking both soldiers and Tutsi civilians. The Army, in turn, responded by often indiscriminate repression. The economic crisis worsened.
Two United Nations missions preceded the Commission to Burundi: in March 1994, following the 21 October 1993 coup attempt in Burundi that resulted in the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye and widespread massacres and other acts of violence throughout that country, the Secretary-General, in response to a request from the Government of Burundi and in compliance with a Note (S/26757) from the President of the Security Council, sent a preparatory fact-finding mission, for which he designated Ambassadors Martin Huslid and Simeon Aké. The report of this mission (S/1995/157) was made public on 24 February 1995. On 26 June 1995, responding to a formal request by the Government of Burundi that the United Nations set up a judiciary commission of inquiry, the Secretary-General sent Mr. Pedro Nikken to Burundi to discuss the manner in which such a Commission should be established.
By the time of the Commission's arrival in Burundi in December 1995, over two years had elapsed since the events that were to be investigated. In that period of upheaval, many actors, witnesses and survivors of the events were displaced, became refugees, or died, often violently. Those that could be heard had time to tell their stories many times over, sometimes in the course of official or unofficial investigations, and introduce modifications or embellishments.
With respect to the massacres and other related serious acts of violence, it was patently impossible to undertake an investigation of each of the thousands of incidents that took place or to attempt to identify each of the tens - if not hundreds - of thousands of direct authors.
The entire country remained the scene of armed confrontation between guerilla and the Army and attacks on civilians by both sides. Incidents are reported almost daily in the interior and around the capital. Attacks are carried out against international organizations, several of whose staff have been killed or wounded. Attacks on vehicles by common criminals are not infrequent.
Sylvestre Ntibantunganya (Hutu) took power and served as President until July 1996, when a military coup d’etat brought current President Pierre Buyoya (Tutsi) to power. Buyoya, a Tutsi who launched a 1987 coup against then-president Bagaza, brought FRODEBU into the new government, although both sides failed to agree on certain key issues. Buyoya was unable to stop the violence. Under pressure from the region, negotiations between the belligerents began in 1998, and in 2000 a peace agreement was concluded in Arusha, Tanzania.
Intense fighting continued since the August 28, 2000, signing of the power sharing agreement. In August 2000, nineteen Burundian political parties signed the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in Arusha, Tanzania, overseen by peace process facilitator, former South African President Nelson Mandela. Of the 19 groups taking part in the talks to end Burundi's 7 year civil war, the government, the military, 7 Hutu political parties, and 6 of the 10 Tutsi political parties signed the power sharing agreement. The Arusha Peace Accords include provisions for an ethnically balanced army and legislature, and for democratic elections to take place after three years of transitional government. The three-year transition period began on November 1, 2001. President Pierre Buyoya is serving as president for the first 18 months of the transition period, to be followed in May 2003 by a Hutu president for the final 18 months. The two main Hutu political opposition groups, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) and the National Liberation Front (FNL), are not party to the Arusha Peace Accords.
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