Associated Press

May 22, 1997


BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) -- Hutu rebels fighting forces loyal to the military regime of Maj. Pierre Buyoya killed 20 people in southern Burundi, government radio said Thursday.

Radio Burundi said the attack occurred in Gitanga in Rutana province but did not say when it took place. Rebel officials could not be reached for comment at their bases in neighboring Tanzania.

The attack occurred as tensions mounted in Bujumbura, the capital, following Buyoya's disclosure that he held secret talks in Rome with the main Hutu rebel organization, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy.

Most Bujumbura residents are Tutsis because the Hutu population was driven from the city during ethnic clashes that followed the October 1993 assassination of former President Melchoir Ndadaye, a Hutu and the country's first democratically elected president.

Ndadaye was killed by Tutsi paratroopers.

University students and trade union members -- generally Tutsis -- have staged protests in Bujumbura against the talks.

The Rome talks resulted in an agreement, signed March 10, by delegations representing Buyoya and the rebel group's head, Leonard Nyangoma. The agreement was made public last week.

The rebel group is seeking a return to the constitutional government in place before Ndadaye's assassination.

The Rome agreement calls for future talks on the reorganization of the political system and of the military, as well as the creation of a tribunal to judge war crimes committed in the last four years.

Military spokesman Col. Isaie Nibizi told reporters Wednesday the army supports Buyoya's actions.

"The soldiers are for the government initiatives," Nibizi said. Buyoya, who had been president from 1987 to 1993 and ran unsuccessfully against Ndadaye, seized power again last July, claiming he alone could end the bloodshed.

Although the Hutu rebels have targeted Tutsi soldiers and civilians, most of the casualties are believed to be Hutus, killed by government troops in retaliation for rebel attacks.