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Burundi – Reconciliation

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Symbols are important, especially for a nation that has suffered as much as Burundi. That is why the government accepted Rosa Paula Iribagiza’s request to find the remains of her younger brother, Charles Ndizeye, the last king of Burundi known under the name of Ntare V, and to give him a dignified grave, as a
gesture of national reconciliation. Mwami (king) Ntare V was assassinated with his six body guards at the Gitega military camp on 29 April 1972.
bur2Historians agree that his execution was ordered by colonel Michel Micombero, who had dethroned the king and proclaimed himself President, after a coup in 1966. Accordingly, Ntare V was handed over to Micombero by the late Idi Amin Dada, then President of Uganda, where the king had sought asylum. Rosa Paula Iribagiza asked the authorities to find the body of her late brother and also to repatriate the body of their father, King Mwambutsa IV who was deposed by Ntare V in 1966 and who died in exile in Switzerland in 1977. The plan is to organize a ceremony on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, on 1st July 2012. 

A technical committee was set up including Burundi’s Minister of Culture, Jean-Jacques Nyenimigabo, bur3the Belgian ambassador and Ntare’s nephew, Prince Ciza Rémy Muhirwa, to organize the search of Ntare’s dead body and his burial. In the prince’s opinion, Ntare’s burial would allow the royal family to mourn at last the late king who was only 25 years old when he was assassinated. That gesture would be like the beginning of a compensation process, says Ciza. Accordingly, it would also help Burundians to reconcile among themselves after a long serial of massacres (including the killing of more than 200,000 Hutus by the army under Micombero’s command in 1972 and of 50,000 Tutsis in 1993 in the wake of the assassination of the country’s first Hutu President, Melchior Ndadaye). In Ciza’s view, the late Mwami (who was neither Tutsi nor Hutu but belonged to the royal Ganwa group) is a bit like a symbol of all the victims. There are even young people who have suggested that he should be buried together with other victims of that period.

bur4Yet, the identification of the King’s remains is a challenge. The first thing is to find the body. According to Prince Ciza, it is probably buried in a common grave, somewhere in the Gitega area. Experts have already identified two sites, one inside the Gitega military camp. Research is currently going on. The second stage is to formally identify the body which can be found. To that effect, the Burundian government requested the assistance of Professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman, who is currently head of the Centre for Human Genetics affiliated with the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). According to Professor Cassiman, it is essential that the bones are conserved in good conditions in order to allow DNA testing. If that is the case, the Belgian professor and his team will take some samples of these remains, bring them back to Belgium and start DNA testing to compare the King’s remains with those of his late mother, Queen Baramparaye, and with samples from living siblings. Professor Cassiman says the Bujumbura authorities have given him the permission to open Queen Barampaye’s grave. Professor Cassiman is confident that Ntare’s corpse will be found, owing to the collaboration of the Belgian Police’s Disaster Victims Identification team and of Burundian historians who have been carrying out several interviews of witnesses in Gitega.

François Misser

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