Burundi rebels attack Bujumbura

BUJUMBURA, Burundi - Gunfire and tracer bullets lit the night sky over Burundi's capital Sunday as Hutu rebels attacked one of Bujumbura's suburbs on the eve of a peace agreement that is supposed to end the country's seven-year civil war.

The attack on Gasenyi, about five miles from the city center, lasted about an hour. By midnight Sunday, the city was calm, though nervous soldiers and police patrolled the streets. Most residents stayed indoors.

It was not the first time the rebels, who are attacking from hide-outs in the hills surrounding the lakeside capital, have launched an assault on Bujumbura. No report on casualties was immediately available.

Tensions were running high in the country as President Pierre Buyoya, the army and 19 Hutu and Tutsi political parties and interest groups were preparing to sign a peace agreement in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha in the presence of President Clinton and other world leaders.

The two main rebel groups, who took up arms after Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the first democratically elected president, a Hutu, in 1993, have refused to sign. The absence of a cease-fire has given Burundians little hope that war would immediately come to an end.

More than 200,000 people have died since the fighting began.

Meanwhile, Tutsi hard-liners who feel the country's power-sharing agreement is favoring the Hutu majority called for a boycott of commercial activities on Monday to protest the signing.

Students at the University of Bujumbura, most of them Tutsis, warned commuters that cars and buses would be stoned. The students have been boycotting classes since last week to protest the government's inability to curb rebel attacks and Buyoya's decision to enter an agreement with Hutu leaders blamed for anti-Tutsi killings.

The students are backed by several Tutsi political parties and groups, who have stepped up opposition to Buyoya and demands that he step down.

''The signing of the agreement is not a problem. The problem is who will lead this country,'' said Samson Ntunguke, a businessman and a member of the opposition Tutsi Parena party led by former President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza.

''We don't trust Buyoya from what we have seen of him,'' he said. That echoed the sentiments among many middle-class Tutsis who blame Buyoya for rushing the first free elections in 1993, then orchestrating a coup three months later that triggered the Hutu rebellion.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has been mediating the talks in Arusha. He is trying to cut a deal among the Burundian negotiators on who would lead the country during a three-year transition period after the agreement is signed Monday. Most Tutsi parties as well as some Hutu politicians are opposed to Buyoya.

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