Nairobi – Burundi’s top court has sentenced a former president to life in prison for the 1993 murder of another president who had defeated him in elections, an attack that triggered a 10-year civil war in which about 300 000 people were killed.
In an October 19 ruling that was seen by Reuters on Tuesday, the court sentenced Pierre Buyoya and 18 others for the death of Melchior Ndadaye, who had defeated Buyoya to become the central African country’s first freely elected president.
Three of those sentenced were handed 20 years each in jail.
Buyoya is at present the African Union’s High Representative for Mali and the Sahel. He could not immediately be reached for comment on the sentencing. Many of those convicted including Buyoya did not appear in court or enter a plea as they are abroad.
Ndadaye was shot dead along with several cabinet ministers in an ambush by ethnic Tutsi soldiers four months after he won election, touching off protracted ethnic bloodshed between Tutsis and Ndadaye’s Hutu-dominated FRODEBU movement.
FRODEBU was Burundi’s largest political party before Buyoya, a Tutsi, seized power in a 1996 military coup.
Also sentenced with Buyoya were former deputy presidents Busokoza Bernard and Alphonse Marie Kadege. Busokoza fled abroad in 2015 and was charged in the same year over-involvement in a failed 2015 coup attempt.
Kadege fled in 2006 after being arrested and tortured by the SNR intelligence service for attempting to overthrow the then president Pierre Nkurunziza, who died in June.
Ndadaye’s successor Cyprien Ntaryamira and Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana died in 1994 when a plane carrying them was shot down by a rocket over Kigali in neighbouring Rwanda, triggering the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 were killed.
The court also ordered that those sentenced collectively pay a fine of 103 billion Burundian francs ($54 million).