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Burundi ex-leader 'rejects' life sentence for murder, to appeal

Pierre Buyoya   -  
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Burundi's former president Pierre Buyoya says that he rejects a life sentence he received in absentia this week over the 1993 assassination of his successor, dismissing the case as politically motivated. 

"This is a political trial conducted in a scandalous manner, in violation of all the rules of law. We decide to appeal to the Burundian courts and, when the time comes, to external courts," he said at a press conference in Bamako.

The former head of state was also speaking on behalf of the twenty or so military and civilian officials sentenced at the same time as him from 20 years to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Burundi, whose verdict was made public Tuesday.

"Given the rule of law in Burundi, I believe that to go there to face the trial would be tantamount to suicide" and "I do not feel like committing suicide at the moment". "I will fight to be represented, at least when it comes to the trial that is taking place in the country," he added.

Mr. Buyoya explained that he would also "discuss in full transparency with (his) superiors" the possibility of "postponing" his duties as AU special envoy to Mali and the Sahel. "It is not for me to decide myself," he said.

The first democratically elected president of Burundi and the first Hutu to come to power, Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated in October 1993 in a military coup that would lead the country into a civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebel groups. It resulted in 300,000 deaths until 2006.

Ndadaye had succeeded Buyoya, who was carried by the army to power in 1987 and who became president again in a new coup between 1996 and 2003, before handing over power to Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu, under a peace agreement signed in 2000 in Arusha (Tanzania).

Mr. Buyoya was convicted of "attacking the head of state, attacking the authority of the state and attempting to bring about massacre and devastation". His name had already been cited in connection with this assassination, without the beginning of any proof being provided.

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