BURUNDI: Demobilisation hits snag

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hundreds of Burundian soldiers scheduled for demobilisation under a donor-recommended programme have refused to complete the process until various financial and selection concerns are answered.

"We cannot go to demobilisation sites before we get an explanation on how our selection was carried out," one of the soldiers, who requested anonymity, told IRIN on 1 April.

The army is in the process of scaling down to 25,000 soldiers by the end of 2008 as part of a series of conditions imposed by development partners for writing off the country's US$1.5 billion foreign debt.

A total of 916 soldiers had been put on a list of those to be demobilised; including 739 privates, 169 non-commissioned officers and 18 officers.

About half of these were due to be taken from a military camp near the capital to a demobilisation centre in the central Gitega province, but refused to board trucks.

Some of the reluctant soldiers said they would end their protest as soon as they received their demobilisation allowance (the equivalent of US$600) and due salary payments, and if they were taken directly home, rather than going to the demobilisation centre.

"We need the entire package now because we have no confidence we will get it later on," one of the soldiers, who also requested anonymity, said. "We can't get our money if it is not given to us now; others who were demobilised earlier have not yet collected their package to date despite organising demonstrations to highlight their case."

They also raised concerns over whether the legal 50-50 ethnic quota in the make-up of the Burundian army had been respected in the process of demobilisation.

"We need to see posted, the list showing ethnic balance, to be persuaded there was transparency," one soldier said. “Those who prepared the lists should come and explain everything to us; until now no one has come to listen to our concerns since the lists were displayed."

Some 200 soldiers who voluntarily went to the Gitega demobilisation site on 31 March expressed their support for those who remained in Bujumbura. They said they would not agree to eight days of training aimed at preparing them for civilian life.

In an attempt to resolve the row, First Vice-President Yves Sahinguvu and Defence Minister Lt-Gen Germain Niyoyankana met senior military officers on 1 April.

He said those with genuine grievances should lodge complaints with the authorities.

Source: IRIN