July 6, 2015 / 3:29 PM / 3 years ago

Burundi coup general says force only way to oust president

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - A Burundian general who backed a failed coup in May threatened to launch an armed uprising after President Pierre Nkurunziza refused to bow to opposition and international demands to abandon a bid for a third term.

General Leonard Ngendakumana, a deputy to the leader of the aborted coup, accused Nkurunziza of dragging the central African country back into civil war, comments that will alarm a region with a long history of ethnic conflict.

In an effort to ease tensions, regional states meeting in Tanzania called for the July 15 Burundi presidential election to be delayed to July 30 to allow mediation between opposing factions. The government dismissed previous calls for delays.

“The next (step) is to organize ourselves just to resist, to make Pierre Nkurunziza understand that he must leave and then that we are prepared to do it by force, by organizing a military force,” Ngendakumana told Kenya’s KTN television, adding that coup leader General Godefroid Niyombare was still in Burundi.

The government told Reuters that any such move would be confronted. “Anybody threatening the security of Burundi, either inside or outside, will meet the full force of our defense and security forces,” presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said.

Opponents say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term - which triggered weeks of violent clashes between protesters and police in Burundi’s capital - violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically charged civil conflict in 2005. Nkurunziza says a court ruling allows him to stand again.

The general’s interview was recorded on Sunday in an undisclosed location outside Burundi before Monday’s meeting in Dar es Salaam of east African states plus South Africa as they seek to end the crisis.

As well as calling for an election delay, the African nations said it was appointing veteran Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to establish a dialogue between opposing sides.

Ngendakumana said Burundi’s government wanted “to engage the region in that civil war, based on ethnic (issues).”

The Arusha peace accords ended a 12-year conflict that pitted rebel groups of the majority Hutus, including one led by Nkurunziza, against minority Tutsis, which commanded the army at the time. The army and other institutions are now mixed.

Ngendakumana said followers of the coup leaders were behind a spate of grenade attacks, which often targeted police, in the run-up to a parliamentary election on June 26.

“We are behind them, and our intent is to intensify,” he said when asked about the incidents.

U.N. observers said the June vote was not free or fair, an assertion the authorities dismissed. The opposition has said it will boycott all the polls.

Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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