How Nkurunziza sneaked into Burundi amid coup


Dramatic details of how embattled Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza was sneaked back into his crisis-torn country from Tanzania can now be revealed.

The Citizen has pieced together the route that Mr Nkurunziza used to reach the capital Bujumbura on Thursday night, to regain the seat of power after an attempt to overthrow him crumbled.

Sources in government and in security circles confided to The Citizen how Mr Nkurunziza was desperate to get back to Burundi and reportedly turned down an offer for asylum in South Africa.

The Burundi leader was in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday for an East Africa Community Heads of State Summit on the crisis in Burundi when renegade army generals and police staged a coup against him.

When news of the coup broke out, the summit was called off and later in the evening Mr Nkurunziza attempted to return to Bujumbura.

However, his flight aborted midair and returned to Dar es Salaam when the coup plotters ordered the airport closed.

The Burundi President then spent Wednesday night at a Dar es Salaam hotel but his whereabouts the following day remained a matter of speculation until he twitted of his successful re-entry into Burundi claiming he was in charge yesterday.

Our sources detailed that Mr Nkurunziza spent most of Wednesday night in a marathon meeting at the State House with President Jakaya Kikwete and a team of his top security advisers.

They were exploring the best way to respond to the fast changing scenario in Bujumbura.

It was at this meeting that Mr Nkurunziza reportedly declined an offer from South Africa for asylum, explaining that things would deteriorate in his country in his absence.

He wanted to get back to calm his supporters and end the violence.

“He told his host that the onus was on Tanzania to ensure that he returned home safely. He dismissed the coup and said all was alright inside his government,” said one of our sources.

On Thursday, the Burundi leader remained holed up at an undisclosed place from where he was driven to Julius Nyerere International Airport at 3pm for the first leg of his journey when his forces had regained an upper hand in the fighting.

He boarded his plane that had been hired from South Africa and flew him to Kigoma town, on the Western part of the country bordering Burundi from where he was to cross over.

According to our sources, President Nkurunziza arrived in Kigoma after an hour.

At 5.30pm, he was taken aboard a helicopter that was to fly him to his home turf region of Ngozi.

The helicopter under the command of senior intelligence officers was designated as civilian and covered a distance of about 450 kilometres from Kigoma to Ngozi.

Here, Mr Nkurunziza was handed to an advance team of his security and intelligence officers who had been dispatched from Bujumbura.

According to our informers, the helicopter arrived with its undesignated VIP at 7pm.

The itinerary planners viewed the route much safer for the President as it was in his stronghold.

He was then driven at night in a small convoy of cars to reach Bujumbura from where he took to the social media at about midnight to appeal for calm and announce he was in the country safe and in charge.

Yesterday, reports inside Burundi confirmed loyal forces had arrested the leader of the failed coup even as protesters opposed to Mr Nkurunziza took to the streets of the capital following the failure of a coup to oust him.

Burning barricades were thrown up in a part of Bujumbura and police were deployed, with shots fired in order to break up the renewed demonstrations.

Major General Godefroid Niyombare was captured two days after announcing Nkurunziza had been overthrown, presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said.

“He has been arrested. He didn’t surrender,” Abayeho told Reuters. Earlier, Abayeho had said three other generals had been arrested but Niyombare was still on the run.

Asked what would happen to the plotters, Abayeho said it was up to the justice system: “They will be held answerable.”

Abayeho said the president was on his way to the capital Bujumbura from his rural home province.

Officials had said he arrived back in Burundi on Thursday, returning from a summit in Tanzania.

Troops loyal to Nkurunziza appear to have succeeded in putting down the coup on Thursday, when there was fighting and gunfire in the streets of the capital.

The attempted overthrow of the president follows more than two weeks of violent demonstrations by opponents who say Nkurunziza has violated the constitution and a peace deal that ended civil war in 2003 by seeking a third five-year term.

Opposition and rights groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, to run for more than two terms.

The president, however, argues his first term did not count as he was appointed by parliament, not directly by the people.

The Citizen Tanzania  

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