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Burundi ex-leader ‘rejects’ life sentence for murder

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Burundi’s Former President Pierre Buyoya (L) passes Belgium’s Foreign Minister Louis Michel (R) after their meeting at the Egmont Palace in Brussels February 22, 2003. Buyoya is in Brussels with Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande for a gala event marking the end of a week of African festivities in the capital. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir FLR/WS

Burundi’s former president Pierre Buyoya said Wednesday that he rejected a life sentence he received in absentia this week over the 1993 assassination of his successor, dismissing the case as politically motivated.

Buyoya was convicted on Monday for “an attack against the head of state” over his role in the death of president Melchior Ndadaye in 1993.

A court in Burundi sentenced him to life in prison, according to a ruling seen by AFP on Tuesday.

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“We reject these judgments, which are in no way binding on us,” Buyoya, who is currently the African Union’s representative in Mali, said in a statement.

Buyoya, an ethnic Tutsi, first came to power in Burundi in a coup in 1987, but stepped down after losing an election to Ndadaye.

Ndadaye, an ethnic Hutu, then became the East African country’s first democratically elected president in 1993.

But he was killed just four months into the job by hardline ethnic Tutsi soldiers.

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His murder plunged the east African nation country into years of civil war between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

The section of the ruling seen by AFP does not give details on evidence provided against Buyoya, or his alleged role in the killing.

In the statement on Wednesday, Buyoya dismissed the case against him and 18 other officials — who received the same sentence — as a “sham”.

“This case is a purely political trial,” he said, suggesting that Burundi’s current government was exploiting it for electoral ends.

He added that defence lawyers had been blocked from accessing case files, and that the trial violated the 2000 Arusha peace accord that helped end Burundi’s civil war.

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