, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 22 – Burundian rebels named a fugitive ex-general who fled after leading a failed coup bid last May as their leader Thursday, hours before UN Security Council ambassadors were expected in Bujumbura.
Ex-general Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, is the leader of the Forebu rebels, said spokesman Edward Nibigira, himself a former senior police general.
The rebel force, which announced its formation in December after months of unrest and bloodshed in the troubled central African country, calls itself the Republican Forces of Burundi, or “Forebu” after its French acronym.
The rebels formed the force “to protect the population” and uphold the Arusha Agreement that paved the way to the end of the 1993-2006 civil war but which they say President Pierre Nkurunziza violated by running for, and winning, a third term in power.
Burundi is still recovering from its ethnically-charged 13-year civil war between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, which cost an estimated 300,000 lives.
Niyombare, 47, the first Hutu chief of staff of the army, was a close ally of Nkurunziza during the civil war. His whereabouts are unknown.
The United States placed sanctions on Niyombare in November — along with government officials — linking them to the country’s descent into violence.
His naming as rebel leader came hours before UN Security Council ambassadors were due to arrive in Bujumbura, where they are expected to try to persuade Burundi to begin serious talks and agree to the deployment of African Union peacekeepers to prevent further violence.
More than 400 people have died in the violence and at least 230,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since April.