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Kofi Annan: Burundi in Crisis

August 1, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Government troops are on high alert, and security remains tight in this ethnically torn Central African state. Violence, which has subsided in the last few days, followed a military coup last week. The Hutu government was toppled, and Tutsi-backed Major Pierre Buyoya took charge. The coup stirred up new fears of violence and an exodus of refugees to neighboring countries.

Since the 1993 assassination of Burundi’s first elected president, a member of the majority Hutu tribe, the world has witnessed massacres and reprisals between the Hutus and the minority Tutsis who dominate the army. This ethnic division is similar to the mix in neighboring Rwanda, where civil war claimed 500,000 lives in 1994. Three years of conflict in Burundi have left 150,000 mostly civilians dead. Since taking control, Burundi’s new leader has been trying to reassure the international community that his ousting of the legitimate government was necessary and, in fact, would halt further bloodshed.

MAJOR PIERRE BUYOYA, Burundi Coup Leader: We are not expecting to stop violence immediately. In a situation like Burundi, it’s impossible. But we’ll do all we can to diminish and then to stop violence in the coming days and weeks.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But African countries have denounced the coup, and the Organization of African Unity said it would not recognize Major Buyoya.

SPOKESMAN: The summit feels that this will deepen the conflict in Burundi and worsen the security and stability of the whole region.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Yesterday, African leaders meeting in Tanzania agreed to a number of measures to force the Junta to return the country to civilian rule. One was a call to reinstate Burundi’s parliament and ban political parties. The leaders also want the new regime to resume peace negotiations and share power with the Hutus. But most importantly, they vowed to impose total sanctions on land-locked Burundi. This would especially cripple the coffee and tea industry, staples of the country’s economy. The ban may also extend to air and ferry travel.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Joining us now to update the situation on the ground and on the diplomatic front is Kofi Annan, Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations. And thank you for joining us. Mr. Annan, what can you add to our report on the situation as it is now?

KOFI ANNAN, Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, UN: You know, the regional heads of states met and took a rather strong stand against a coup d’etat and recommended sanctions, implementation of sanctions. And they are also pressing ahead with the formation of an intervention force. And I think what is also interesting is by and large, the leaders in the African region have taken a much stronger stand than some of the reactions which have come in from our side, Africa.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now can you be more explicit there. Are you talking about the western governments which have not wanted to be a part of a peacekeeping force? Is that what you’re referring to?

KOFI ANNAN: I think that is one, and there’s a question of effort in trying to put together a force, and also a reaction to the coup, itself, where some have felt that maybe one should not be too harsh because you need to work–you may have to work with the people on the ground. But I believe that for the African Burundi situation, it poses a real moral, political, and philosophical dilemma. You will recall led by the African continent or the African leaders, the entire international community fought against minority rule in South Africa. If minority rule is not acceptable in one country on the continent, it should not be acceptable in another. And how do you deal with that? And this is why they’ve been quite anxious to keep groups to share power and really keep the dialogue going and eventually return to the democratic processes which they have been hoping to discuss and expand with the leaders in Burundi.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, where do you and the UN stand at this point, for example, on the peacekeeping forces?

KOFI ANNAN: We have been in consultations with the member states. We have received some offers but not enough really to say that if we had to go in today, we will be able to do it.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And you need how many to go in?

KOFI ANNAN: I hesitate to give a figure now because we are still refining our plans. But what is certain is that most of the western governments have indicated that they will not put troops on the ground, but they will give logistical support and maybe offer airlift capability.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that a satisfactory response as far as you’re concerned?

KOFI ANNAN: It’s not an ideal response because in a situation like this, you may need to intervene very quickly and if you’re talking of rapid reaction for early intervention, you will ideally want to rely on those governments with capabilities, those governments who have extensive logistical support and airlift capabilities to either join the operation or to lead it. If that does not happen, of course, you have to do the best you can with the offers you receive, but it can also not be as–that at the end of the day if the response is not sufficiently strong, we may not be able to put in a force.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But how can you put in a force? I mean, you don’t have the legitimate government in power, but you do have a military coup in effect. How would that force relate to that coup and Major Buoyoya?

KOFI ANNAN: I think that we have looked at two options. The first option was a force that could go in with the consent and agreement of the government on the ground, and when the ARUSHA process discussed this issue on the 25th of June–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: That is the Africans in the Region.

KOFI ANNAN: That’s correct, working with the OAU, the government at that time invited a force to come in. The president and Prime Minister agreed that a force should come in, but they moment they got to Bujumbura, they started backing up. Buoyoya has said that he is against a foreign intervention force.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So where does that leave you?

KOFI ANNAN: It will mean that the if the international community were to decide to go in, it would have to be under Chapter 7, and they may have to do it without a consent of the government, and this can be done there, but the force has to be credible and capable.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what–excuse me, I’m sorry.

KOFI ANNAN: The force has to be credible and capable of implementing its mandate and protecting itself.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But does the will exist anywhere within the U.N. structure, within any of the member states?

KOFI ANNAN: It hasn’t been sufficiently manifested at this stage.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what about the economic sanctions, because the Africans haven’t agreed to commit troops either, they’ve gone the way of economic sanctions, how effective do you think that could be?

KOFI ANNAN: I think it could be effective if all the countries in the region implemented it. Let’s not forget that Burundi is land-locked, and they rely a lot on the Tanzanian Ports to get their goods in, including fuel, and all that. And if the governments in the region decided to seal their borders, it will create a considerable economic hardship and put lots of pressure on the government in Burundi. But let me add something else. In addition to the economic sanctions, the governments decided to put up a force, and already I know that Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda have agreed to contribute troops to a regional force.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What is the physical situation? I mean, has the killing stopped? Have the conflicts stopped?

KOFI ANNAN: The conflicts, obviously, have not stopped, and they will–and one will have to keep, uh, working on the reconciliation process and try and get the parties together along the ARUSHA alliance and perhaps get them to return to the efforts that Guerera, President Guerera has been leading. Two days ago, many more–the refugees were leaving the country, going to the neighboring countries, but the neighboring countries are now determined to stop it and seal their borders and also impose sanctions. And I suspect one of the strategies is to get–to try to get the Burundi regime back to the negotiating table to–to join the process which is being led by President Guerera and talk to the Hutu group on power sharing arrangements.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, Mr. Secretary-General, thank you for being with us.

KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much.