Ex- Hutu rebel voted army chief

2009-04-17 10:40

Bujumbura - General Godefroid Niyombare, a former Hutu rebel, on Thursday became the first member of his ethnic group to be appointed head of Burundi's armed forces in this African nation torn by civil strife.

The Senate voted in closed session to confirm Niyombare as military chief as part of the country's efforts to divide government posts equally between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis under a peace agreement.

"The Senate has just approved with 34 out of 47 votes President Pierre Nkurunziza's nomination of General Godefroid Niyombare to the post of head of army chiefs of staff," Senator William Munyembabazi said.

"It is the first time that a Hutu becomes head of the army chiefs of staff of Burundi and it is a sign that society has evolved," said Nkurunziza, who is also a former Hutu rebel.

Niyombare, 40, who was the deputy military chief, was a member of the ex-rebel Democracy Defence Forces (FDD) that are now in power. He replaces General Samuel Gahiro, a Tutsi.

"This change was expected for a while because it had been agreed in 2004 that, after some time, the head of the armed forces from the former army would give up his place to a soldier for the former rebellion," a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Burundi is struggling to emerge from 13 years of civil war that have pitted the army, once dominated by Tutsis, against Hutu rebel movements.

Hutus and Tutsis now equally share posts in the army and police.