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Burundian princess for president
23/12/2004 11:20  - (SA)  


File photo of top fashion model and exiled Burundian princess Esther Kamatari on the phone during an interview in Paris. (Michel Euler, AP)
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  • Paris - After living in exile for nearly 35 years, a Burundian princess and former fashion model is returning to her native country to run for president.

    Esther Kamatari, the daughter of a Burundian prince, was selected as the Abahuza party's candidate for the April presidential elections in her troubled homeland.

    "We just want to change things in the right direction, to move forward," she said in an interview with Associated Press Television News. "It is necessary to organise these elections properly so that Burundians can finally have a future."

    The central African nation of some six million people gained its independence from Belgium in 1962. Like neighbouring Rwanda, it has been riveted by ethnic fighting between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority.

    A civil war that lasted 11 years left more than 260 000 people, mostly civilians, dead.

    Peace starts with children

    The 53-year-old Kamatari believes that peace starts with children - whose parents, she says, must stop teaching them "idiocies" about ethnic differences. Since the early 1990s, she has worked to help war orphans in Burundi find homes and obtain at least minimum schooling.

    "I have never seen a light blinking on a child's forehead saying 'I'm Hutu.' or 'I'm Tutsi,"' she said. "When I see a child, I see a child. If he's Tutsi, he's Tutsi. If he's Hutu, he's Hutu. He's a child and, above all, a Burundian."

    Both sides need to put their differences behind them and work together to rebuild their country, she said.

    Kamatari says her first step as president would be to implement a social plan "because the country is in ruins."

    'Nothing works anymore'

    "Nothing works anymore," she said. "There are no schools, no hospitals, nothing. ... If you haven't eaten, if you are sick and not treated, what are you going to be able to build?"

    Katamari left Burundi in 1970 at the age of 19 after the assassinations in the 1960s of her uncle King Mwambutsa IV, her father and other members of the royal family as the monarchy moved to a bloody close.

    She moved to France and by the 1980s became the first internationally known black model working for the famed French couturiers, from Lanvin to Dior.

    Katamari still lives in Paris but goes to Burundi regularly and plans to move back there soon to begin campaigning.

    She and her Abahuza party are in favour of reinstating the monarchy via a new referendum, a process they contend would lead to peace.

    Edited by Tori Foxcroft


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