Former Burundi president Pierre Buyoya dies of Covid in Paris

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Pierre Buyoya, former president of Burundi, has died at the age of 71 after contracting Covid, relatives said Friday. The news comes just weeks after he resigned as the African Union's special envoy to Mali and the Sahel.

Buyoya contracted coronavirus while in the Malian capital Bamako, and for the past week had been hospitalised in the city's Pasteur Clinic. His health suddenly deteriorated while on artificial respiration, a family member told AFP.

"He was evacuated to Paris yesterday afternoon. His plane made a stopover and arrived in France in the evening," the family member said.

"He died as the ambulance was taking him to hospital in Paris for treatment."

It is not yet known where or when the former head of state will be buried.

Facing life in prison

Buyoya served as the African Union's special envoy to Mali and the Sahel from 2012 until November this year.

He resigned after being sentenced in October to life imprisonment in Burundi over the 1993 assassination of his successor, Melchior Ndadaye.

Buyoya was sentenced in absentia over the murder, along with some 20 military officials and civilians who were also given sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment.

Buyoya argued the trial was "political" and "conducted in a scandalous manner", adding that he was resigning his post in order to defend himself and clear his name.

Two-term leader

An ethnic Tutsi, Buyoya made his start in the military before rising to power in a coup in 1987.

During his first term he worked towards a more democratic system in one of Africa's smallest nations. He stepped down in 1993 after the country's first democratic elections, during which he was resoundingly beaten by Ndadaye, a Hutu.

But hardline ethnic Tutsi soldiers killed Ndadaye just four months into his term, plunging Burundi into years of civil war between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

Buyoya became president again following a coup, and governed Burundi from 1996 to 2003.

In 2000, he signed the Arusha Accords, an agreement aimed at ending the civil war, which left an estimated 300,000 people dead between 1993 and 2006. Buyoya stepped down in 2003 in line with the accords.

Another former Burundian president, Pierre Nkurunziza, died in June aged 55 of what the government said was heart failure, although many suspect he too had contracted coronavirus.

(with AFP)