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Thursday, August 03, 2006

BURUNDI: Colonel arrested as coup crackdown continues

BUJUMBURA, 2 Aug 2006 (IRIN) - Secret service agents in Burundi arrested an army colonel on Wednesday in a government crackdown on suspected coup plotters, the government spokesman said.

Agents of the internal intelligence agency, the Agence nationale de renseignement, arrested Col Damien Ndarisigaranye at a bank in the capital, Bujumbura, bringing to nine those being held since Monday on similar allegations.

Government spokesman Ramadhan Karenga said all those under arrest were on a list of 15 people "wanted for preparing to overthrow the elected institutions".

Burundi is emerging from 13 years of civil war, in which the minority Tutsi-dominated army fought several rebel groups headed by the majority Hutus. At least 300,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The country has been largely peaceful since democratic elections in August 2005 but a faction of a rebel group, the Forces nationales de libération (FNL) lead by Agathon Rwasa (FNL), continues to stage attacks in two provinces near Bujumbura.

This week's arrests have netted one-time Vice-President Alphonse Marie Kadege and a former rebel leader Alain Mugabarabona. Kadege is a senior member of the pro-Tutsi Union pour le progrès national (UPRONA) while Mugabarabona is leader of the Forces nationales de libération-Icanzo, a breakaway faction of the rebel FNL, now a political party.

Karenga said the government had evidence against those arrested but added, "It is not yet time to give details on the arrests."

The executive committee of UPRONA met on Tuesday to assess the situation. Party chairman Aloys Rubuka said the arrests reflected "a plan by the government to destabilise its members".

He said Kadege was being treated as if he was a convicted criminal. "We call on the government to release him as soon as possible and to provide evidence quickly that he is involved in the destabilisation of the country's institutions, if any," Rubuka said.

Rubuka claimed the government was using the arrests to conceal certain cases of embezzlement and a political crisis in the country.

"The government wants to cover up the economic and political crisis whereby some senior country officials are involved in offences notably including the theft of sugar [from a state-run firm], the illegal sale of an aircraft of President Pierre Nkurunziza, fraudulent tendering for government contracts, in addition to a crisis in the National Assembly on its internal regulations," Rubuka said.

He urged the government to consult other political parties to seek a lasting settlement to these problems.

Supporters of the pro-Hutu Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) are on the government list of those wanted in connection with the alleged coup plot. These include Pancrace Cimpaye, once a spokesman of former President Domitien Ndayizeye, and Isaie Simbare, a former chief of protocol during Ndayizeye's administration.

FRODEBU Secretary-General Euphrasie Bigirimana said the police had left the homes of Cimpaye and Simbara, which they had sealed off on the previous day. She said Cimpaye was on a trip to Dar es salaam, Tanzania, whereas the whereabouts of Simbare remained unknown.

In a statement issued on Wednesday after a meeting of the party's senior officials, Bigirimana said FRODEBU was calling on the international community, particularly the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and member countries of the Great Lakes Initiative on Burundi to closely follow the situation in Burundi in order "to prevent any social and political havoc".

Commenting on the arrests the chairman of the Centre National d'Alerte et de Prevention des Conflicts, Charles Ndayiziga, said the arrests could slow down or halt the ceasefire negotiations now in progress in Dar es Salaam between the Burundian government and Rwasa's FNL.

"The issue is serious as the government might not have enough time to devote to the peace talks," he said.

He added that the negotiations needed a "clean sociopolitical environment" to move forward. In the current situation of political instability, he said, the FNL leaders could perceive that there was no guarantee of their security should they return home following a peace deal.

The scant information on the arrests is also worrying, Ndayiziga said. "We do not know much on that issue," he said.

He added that there was need to know the identity of the "hidden forces" that may be working with the arrested people. Burundians and the international community need to know the real reasons for the arrests, he said.

"There is a need to inform the public and to issue messages to calm down emotions and fears among families of those arrested in order to prevent turmoil," he said.
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