Burundi’s Tutsi-led army staged an apparent coup against the Hutu president, who fled to the U.S. ambassador’s residence and urged his countrymen Wednesday not to yield to attempts to seize power by force.
President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya took refuge at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Morris Hughes late Tuesday after Tutsi paratroopers surrounded government buildings in the capital, Bujumbura.
He faced more pressure Wednesday from a Tutsi-dominated political party, which called for his ouster. Foreign diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unlikely Ntibantunganya (pronounced En-tee-bahn-toon-gan-yah) would remain in power.
“The president feared for his life and his own security forces were not responding to his requests,” said Mames Bansubibko, a close adviser to the president. “He is staying with the U.S. ambassador to make sure he is not going to be killed.”
Bansubibko said Ntibantunganya was not resigning, adding: “The most important thing right now is to make sure the population in Burundi will not start killing each other.”
Civil war between Tutsis and Hutus has ripped the tiny African nation apart for the past three years, killing more than 150,000 Burundians. Hutus make up 85 percent of the population of 6 million and Tutsis make up 14 percent. In neighboring Rwanda in 1994, violence between Hutus and Tutsis killed more than 500,000.
Ntibantunganya, 40, was pelted with stones and cow dung Tuesday as he arrived for a funeral for 340 Tutsis, mostly women and children, massacred Saturday by Hutu rebels in Bugendena, in central Burundi.
The U.N. Security Council said Wednesday its 15 members “strongly condemn any attempt to overthrow the present legitimate government by force.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the United States “will not, under any circumstances, tolerate a government installed by force or intimidation in Burundi.”