Former Burundi rebel chief says to seek presidency in 2015

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - A former Burundian Hutu rebel leader believed by authorities to have been in exile in the Congo for almost three years said on Tuesday he would take a second stab at the presidency in 2015 elections.

Agathon Rwasa ran for the top post in the central African country in 2010, but withdrew from the race after accusing the ruling party of rigging the vote.

He later fled, saying he feared for his safety. Burundian authorities believed he was hiding in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with fellow former combatants.

For the first time, Rwasa rejected those allegations.

“I take this opportunity to deny allegations saying I was in Congo, I never left Burundi territory,” he told hundreds of supporters in the capital Bujumbura where he had hoped to address a rally.

Police banned the gathering, citing security reasons.

There was no immediate comment from the government.

Analysts said Rwasa’s reemergence on Burundi’s political scene would offer an alternative in the fragile democracy. Rwasa led his National Liberation Forces (FNL) in disarming in April 2009. His was the last active rebel group.

President Pierre Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD remains the dominant political party in the government and in parliament, after the opposition boycotted the last election in the country of 8 million people lying in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Nkurunziza, another former rebel leader, became president in 2005 following years of peace talks.

Nkurunziza and Rwasa had led mainly Hutu rebel groups fighting against an army dominated by the Tutsi minority.

FNL rebels laid down their weapons and joined the government in 2009 after two decades of civil war that killed 300,000 people. A majority of the population in the country lying on the shores of Lake Tanganyika are Hutu.

Despite police roadblocks, hundreds of supporters thronged Rwasa’s home in the Kiriri residential suburb of the capital, where most of the political elite and diplomats reside, chanting: “You are welcome, you are our president”.

“My goal now is to organise my political party and unite all party members to prepare for the next elections,” said Rwasa, saying he would run under the FNL party.

Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Michael Roddy