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Former Burundian president Pierre Buyoya is buried in Mali

Burundi’s former president Pierre Buyoya was buried on Tuesday in Mali, thousands of kilometres (miles) from his home country, where he had been given a life sentence, an AFP reporter saw.

Burundi’s former president Pierre Buyoya (Picture by © PEDRO UGARTE)

Buyoya, who died in Paris from coronavirus on December 17 at the age of 71, was interred in the capital Bamako, his base for eight years as the African Union’s special envoy to Mali and the Sahel.

Buyoya, an ethnic Tutsi army officer, first came to power in Burundi in a coup in 1987.

He stepped down in 1993 in the country’s first democratic elections in which Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, beat him resoundingly for the presidency.

He returned to the presidency in 1996, again in a coup, and in 2000 signed the Arusha Accords aimed at ending the country’s brutal civil war. He stepped down in 2003 in line with the agreement.

In October this year, he received a life sentence in absentia along with 18 other defendants for the assassination of Ndadaye, a Hutu killed by hardline Tutsi soldiers after less than four months in office.

The killing triggered a decade-long conflict between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis that left an estimated 300,000 dead.

Buyoya dismissed the trial as a “sham… (and) purely political” but later quit his AU post, saying he wanted to clear his name.

A funeral mass was held in Bamako’s Sacred Heart cathedral early Wednesday, celebrated by the city’s cardinal and archbishop, Jean Zerbo.

Around 100 people were in attendance, including Buyoya’s widow and three children and representatives from the state of Mali, the AU and European Union.

“Relatives, friends and former colleagues came from Burundi, but there wasn’t an official government delegation,” a friend of the family said.

A senior Burundian government official said the family had been informed Buyoya had “the right to be buried” in his home country “like any Burundian citizen”.

However, he would not be given the honours of a former head of state “because of his sentence,” the official said.

The coffin, covered with a white shroud, a sash with the Burundian national colours and a bouquet of white roses, was taken to the Catholic cemetery in Bamako, where Buyoya was buried in the early afternoon.

Burundi has been ruled since 2005 by the CNDD-FDD party, which emerged from the main Hutu revolt.

In 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s run for a third term in office sparked protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 dead while some 400,000 fled the country.

Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical, died unexpectedly this June, shortly before he was due to hand over to Evariste Ndayishimiye, a hardliner who had won elections the previous month. AFP