Former rebel accused of coup involvement

Bujumbura - A Burundi army commander on Wednesday accused a former rebel chief of being behind an alleged coup plot against the less than year-old government of the small Central African nation.

Commander Jean-Pasteur Rudada, who was briefly detained before winning freedom after agreeing to co-operate with police, said that the coup was organised by Alain Mugabarabona, a former rebel chief who is now a leader of a small Hutu party.

Mugabarabona, former vice president Alphonse-Marie Kadege, opposition politician Deo Niyonzima, senior military officer Damien Ndarisigaranye as well as four others were arrested last week and detained for planning to overthrow the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza.

"The putsch was hatched and prepared by Alain Mugabarabona," Rudada told reporters, adding that Kadege, Niyonzima and Ndarisigaranye were not involved in the plan.

"I participated in all the preparatory stages, but I did not see the involvement of Alphonse-Marie Kadege, Deo Niyonzima, Damien Ndarisigaranye and Isidore Rufyikiri," Rudada said.

Rufyikiri, a lawyer, was the last to be detained last Thursday. Rudada said that the press conference was to "deny the different versions of the coup d'etat reported by Burundian media".

But the main Tutsi party, UPRONA, which has accused the government of using the coup plot to divert attention from corruption scandals, denounced Rudada's accusations, saying that it was a government ploy to wiggle out of the situation.

"It is clear that this soldier is being used by the government which is looking for a way out of this bad situation in which it has plunged itself," a official with UPRONA told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The government has come under criticism by local and international rights groups for torture, an accusation it has denied despite confirmation by family members that three of the eight detainees were being mistreated.

Burundi has suffered several coups and attempted coups since it won independence from Belgium in 1962 and is currently struggling to emerge from 13 years of ethnically driven civil war that has claimed 300 000 lives.

The war began in 1993 with the assassination of the country's first democratically elected president, a member of the Hutu majority, by elements of the then Tutsi-dominated military. - Sapa-AFP

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