Uncertain times for Burundi as coup author on the run and president set to reclaim power

Pierre Nkurunziza set to make a national address on Friday as hunt on for powerful general who launched failed putsch.

The leader of coup attempt in Burundi, General Godefroid Niyombare, has gone on the run after escaping capture by troops loyal to the central African nation’s president, a senior police official told news agency  AFP Friday.

This comes as President Pierre Nkurunziza is poised to make a national address Friday, marking a dramatic return to power after two days of uncertainty following the attempt to overthrow him.

“General Niyombare has evaded us but we know where he is hiding,” the official said, adding he was believed to have fled to a southern district of the capital Bujumbura. 

Reports says other leaders who supported the coup have been arrested, including the coup spokesman, Zenon Ndabaneze, deputy coup leader Cyrille Ndayirukiye and another senior figure among the mutineers.

Niyombare had earlier Friday told AFP by telephone he was surrendering and that loyalist troops were closing in on him. 

Officials in the president’s office said Nkurunziza has returned to the capital Bujumbura. “He is in Bujumbura in a very secure place,” an aide to the president told AFP. 

“He will address the nation today.”

Earlier a deputy coup leader admitted after a day of fierce fighting between rival army factions that the attempted putsch had failed.

“Personally, I recognise that our movement has failed,” General Cyrille Ndayirukiye told AFP.

“We were faced with an overpowering military determination to support the system in power.”

Nkurunziza was in neighbouring Tanzania for regional talks Wednesday when Niyombare, a powerful general, launched the coup, in a culmination of weeks of violent street protests against the president’s bid to seek a third term.

While the president’s return could not be independently verified, a source close to him said the head of state “will sleep in Ngozi in his home province tonight”.

The coup attempt had raised fears of a return to widespread violence in the impoverished country, which is still recovering from a 13-year civil war that ended in 2006 and left hundreds of thousands dead.

Earlier Thursday, loyalist troops said they had fought off two major attacks by rival soldiers in an intense battle for control over the strategically important state radio office..

By mid-afternoon, station director Jerome Nzokirantevye said it was “loyalist soldiers who are in control”.

International condemnation

Wednesday’s coup bid announcement drew international criticism, with the United States insisting that Nkurunziza remained “the legitimate president”.

The United Nations Security Council, in emergency talks on the crisis, called for an end to the violence and “the holding of credible elections” while separately, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “attempts to oust elected governments by military force” and urged calm.

Both sides at different times claimed to control the streets, adding to the confusion over the outcome of the coup, but by Thursday night the uprising appeared to have been crushed.

A senior police official said the pro-coup troops were “in disarray” after their assault on the RTNB state television and radio complex in the capital was repelled.

“Some rebels have already surrendered. Others are fleeing,” he said.

The fight for RTNB was seen as crucial to control the flow of information as Burundi’s main private radio stations and the largest independent television channel were no longer broadcasting. The influential African Public Radio station was even set ablaze after being hit by a rocket.

General Ndayirukiye said the attempted coup, “even if it has failed,” had shown that there were forces within the army “subservient to the ruling party”.

Asked whether the pro-coup troops would surrender or make a last stand, he said: “We have thought about it but we don’t want to be responsible for leading those who have followed us to their deaths.”

He added that Niyombare and other senior figures involved in the coup attempt were by his side as he was speaking to AFP.

‘Unconstitutional’

Opposition and rights groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, to run for more than two terms. The president, however, argues his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

More than 25 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party—which has been accused of intimidating the opposition and arming its own militia—nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26 polls.

It remains unclear, however, how many have died since the launch of the coup.

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