The Supreme Court has sentenced five people to death for their involvement in the 1993 assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye, BBC Kirundi service reported.
They were named as Paul Kamana - an officer who is in exile and regarded as the ringleader -, Laurent Nzeyimana, Juvenal Gahungu, Sylvere Nduwumukama and Emmanuel Ndayizeye. They are among a total of 79 people sentenced by the court. The others received sentences ranging from 20 years to one year. Another 38 people were acquitted including high-ranking officials such as the former army chief of staff Colonel Jean Bikomagu, the former defence minister Colonel Charles Ntakije and Colonel Isaie Nibizi who was charged with the president's security.
Burundi analyst, Jan van Eck of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in South Africa, told IRIN on Monday the long-running trial - begun under Ndadaye's successor Sylvestre Ntibantunganya - had been controversial from the beginning. He said it was courageous of President Pierre Buyoya to continue the trial as he risked alienating his own supporters, but the
real ringleaders were outside the country and it was doubtful whether those who wanted real justice for Ndadaye's murder would be satisfied. "This trial raises the whole issue that Burundians are battling with," Van Eck said. "Do you conclude a trial like this before a peace agreement is in place which would make the institutions more legitimate?" While the trial did not undermine the peace process as it demonstrated an attempt to end impunity in the region, it was a question of perception in that the institutions would be regarded as biased.