Burundi General Godefroid Niyombare
Major General Godefroid Niyombare arrives at the Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) broadcasting studios to address the nation in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, on 13 MayReuters

General Godefroid Niyombare, who led the failed coup against Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza, has become the head of a newly created armed group, the Republican Forces of Burundi (Forces républicaines du Burundi, Forebu), the rebels have announced.

Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 that he would run for a controversial third term, prompting months of protests and a split in the army that lead to a failed coup on 13 May 2015. At least 400 people have been killed and almost 3,500 have been arrested in a campaign of political repression and violent unrest, pitting pro-government forces and a number of opposition groups, including the recently formed Forebu and Resistance to the Rule of Law in Burundi (Résistance pour un Etat de droit au Burundi, RED-Tabara).

Four of the leaders of the failed coup were sentenced to life in prison on 15 January, while nine others were jailed for 30 years for their roles in the attempt to overthrow Nkurunziza. Coup leader Niyombare, who was a Major General at the time of the attack, was never arrested.

According to an audio statement released by the Forebu, however, Niyombare has become its head of the "executive body", General Philbert Habarugura is now leading the army and Colonel Gilles Ndihokubwayo has become army chief of staff.

"The overall coordination of Forebu is provided by the General Godefroid Niyombare," the new spokesman Police Commissioner Edward Nibigira - a former member of the staff of the police and former director of civil protection - said in the statement sent to AFP news agency.

Who is Godefroid Niyombare?

Former rebel Godefroid Niyombare became the first ever Hutu chief of general staff of the army in April 2009 after having fought as a commander in the CNDD-FDD rebel group (before it was demilitarised to become a political party) and was involved in peace talks with the FNL rebel group.

The 47-year-old previously served as military chief of staff and as Burundi's Ambassador to Kenya.

Niyombare was nominated head of the Burundi Intelligence Service (Services de renseignements burundais, SNR) in late 2014, but was dismissed by Nkurunziza in February 2015 after it emerged that he had written a memo arguing against the President's controversial plans to run for a third term in office.

The insurgency group has the goal of removing Nkurunziza and ensuring the respect of the Arusha Accords". The agreement is a political framework widely attributed with having brought Burundi out of its 1993–2005 civil war, during which 300,000 were killed.

Timeline of a failed coup

On 13 May 2015, reports emerged of police firing live bullets at protesters. Hours later, Niyombare announced in a radio broadcast that he and other senior army generals were "dismissing President Pierre Nkurunziza" - who was travelling to Tanzania to meet leaders of the East Africa Community to discuss the violence rocking the country.

However, the presidency tweeted that the "situation is under control", denied the coup and vowed to hunt down the army generals behind takeover - including Niyombare.

The next day, after calling in reinforcements, the army tried to re-take "by force" two state institutions still in the hands of loyalist forces including the presidential palace and main radio station RTNB.

Nkurunziza attempted to return to Burundi, but he was unable to do so because soldiers had taken control of the airport in Bujumbura. After returning on 14 May, however, Nkurunziza declared the coup bid failed. On 15 May, the Presidency said it had arrested two other leaders of the coup and would charge them with mutiny.