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Burundi's President Is Back Home While Leaders of Attempted Coup Admit Defeat

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza has announced he's back in the country, while three leaders of the failed coup against him have reportedly been arrested.
May 15, 2015, 6:00pm
Photo by Jerome Delay/AP

After a frantic night filled with fighting and celebrations, Burundi's president has announced that he's back in the country, while the some of leaders of the attempted coup have reportedly been arrested.

Meanwhile, the UN announced on Friday that at least 105,000 people have fled to neighboring countries — with with 70,187 in Tanzania, 26,300 in Rwanda and 9,183 in the DRC.

A video posted to President Pierre Nkurunziza's Facebook page showed what appears to be his car being greeted with cheers as it returns to the country from Tanzania — where Nkurunziza was attending a regional summit aimed at addressing the ongoing unrest in Burundi.

Meanwhile, loyalist forces say they are still looking for General Godefroid Niyombare, the leader of the attempted coup that started after Nkurunziza left.

On Friday morning, the group announced their defeat. Niyombare, who launched the coup, told AFP by telephone that he wanted to give himself up, while other top generals were arrested. "We have decided to surrender," he said. "I hope they won't kill us."

President Nkurunziza is also due to address the nation on Friday, according to RFI radio.

Three other pro-coup generals were detained, according to AFP reports. They included the spokesperson for the group, Zenon Ndabaneze, the second-in-command of the movement, deputy leader Cyrille Ndayirukiye, and a third man whose identity is not known yet.

"We have put weapons down. We have called the Minister of Public Security and the Minister of Defense to tell them we had no weapons anymore," said Ndabaneze over the phone before he was arrested. "They are alive," assured a high police official, quoted by Jeune Afrique.

The situation in Bujumbura's streets was still difficult to assess on Friday — though the atmosphere was much quieter. It is not certain whether the rest of pro-coup army forces have dropped weapons, or what is the exact divide between loyalists and pro-coup leaders. Burundi's civil society is calling for new protests and marches in the street to protest against Nkurunziza running for a third term, which is the cause of the current crisis.

A former rebel leader, Nkurunziza was appointed president in 2005 by Burundi's parliament after a decade of civil war. Opponents say he is unable to run for a third term because constitution forbids it, while his supporters have argued he's eligible for a third term because he didn't have to face a general election when he first took office. The country's constitutional court has also ruled that he is eligible to run.

Related: Crowds Cheer Apparent Coup in Burundi — But Celebration Might Be Premature

Between Wednesday and Thursday night Nkurunziza's location was uncertain — and reports had him everywhere from Tanzania to Uganda. He initially arrived in Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania's capital city, on Wednesday. A person close to the president told AFP that Nkurunziza re-entered Burundi by car, through the Tanzanian border, and that he spent the night in Nogzi, the region of his birth.

Wednesday and Friday saw days of fights between coup supporters and loyalists. The fiercest violence was on Thursday between loyalists and coup supporters, and reportedly happened close to the Radio-Télévision Nationale Burundaise (RTNB). At least three soldiers were killed, according to several media reports. There has also been an ongoing battle for control of the country's media outlets. RTNB, considered the sole mean to address the whole nation, remained under the control of loyalists. Between Wednesday and Thursday, coup supporters launched several attacks on RTNB, though apparently failed to gain control over it.

Much of the international community condemned the coup attempt. In a statement released on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned "all attempts to oust elected governments by military force." The US also affirmed the legitimacy of the government and asked US citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter @__matthieujublin

VICE News' Sally Hayden also contributed to this report.