KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Pierre Buyoya, Burundi's former president, on Sunday dismissed as politically motivated an arrest warrant issued against him for his alleged participation in the assassination of his country's first democratically elected leader.
On Friday, Burundi's attorney general issued 17 international arrest warrants for Buyoya and former senior military and civilian officials suspected of involvement in the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye in 1993. Buyoya, a highly respected diplomat and representative of African Union is on the top of the list of those accused of planning Ndadaye's killing.
Attorney General Sylvestre Nyandwi said the suspects allegedly were involved in the planning and killing of Ndadaye. His death sparked a civil war between the East African nation's two dominant ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, in which an estimated 300,000 people died.
Laurence Ndadaye, wife of the late president, has been urging President Pierre Nkurunziza's government to bring killers of her husband to book.
Buyoya, a Tutsi, who came to power in 1987 with the help of Burundi's army, ruled Burundi from 1987 to 1993 and from 1996 to 2005 and has repeatedly denied any role in the killing.
"Everything they are saying is political manipulation," Buyoya said in a statement issued Sunday. He said the arrest warrant against him is an attempt to divert attention from Burundi's ongoing crisis that the current leadership has failed to resolve.
He said in his statement that Burundi's courts have already convicted the officers who played a role in the killing of Ndadaye.
Burundi remains in political turmoil over current president Nkurunziza's election to a third term, which many criticize as illegal.
Regarded by many in Burundi as the hero of democracy and the country's first elected Hutu leader, Ndadaye was killed in an attempted coup by hard-line Tutsi soldiers four months after Buyoya, a Tutsi, stepped down.
In events marking 25 years since the assassination in October, Burundi's justice minister told lawmakers that those suspected had held powerful positions for many years, delaying efforts at accountability.
The lawyer defending Ndadaye's family, Fabien Segatwa, called the announcement "a great step towards justice."
Vital Nshimiyimana, a Burundi local human rights activist, told The Associated Press that the decision to arrest Buyoya after over 20 years will be regarded as witch-hunt and will spark anger among Burundians.
"Since 2015, the current government has been persecuting soldiers close to Buyoya and the arrest warrant against him will be viewed in the same angle," Nshimiyimana said.