BURUNDI: Peace process must be concluded by year-end - mediator

Friday, August 31, 2007

The mediator in the Burundian peace process, South Africa's security minister Charles Nqakula, has said a lasting peace accord between the government of Burundi and the rebel group that remains outside the peace process must be concluded by year-end.

"We got instructions from the African Union to complete the mission by the end of this year," Nqakula told IRIN on 29 August after meeting Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The Forces nationales de libération (FNL), led by Agathon Rwasa, is the only active rebel movement in the country, despite signing a ceasefire agreement with the government in September 2006.

On 17 June, Nkurunziza met Rwasa in Tanzania and agreed to reactivate that peace deal and to free FNL members imprisoned in Burundi. Critics say the agreement mainly addressed security issues, but stayed silent on power-sharing arrangements, yet the FNL has indicated it wanted a share of government positions.

Nqakula said FNL's spokesman Pasteur Habimana had expressed to South Africa the movement's willingness to "to go back to the Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism that had been discussing ways to implement the ceasefire agreement, but whose activities have been regularly at a standstill".

Nqakula did not set a date for the resumption of talks but a summit of regional leaders will be called soon to boost the peace process.

The FNL is itself split into factions between those who want to continuing fighting and those who want peace.

A group of more than 30 FNL combatants in favour of war is entrenched in a forest in Buterere commune, north of Bujumbura. The local authority in Buterere has expressed disquiet over their presence, saying they were likely to attack the local population when they came out of their hideouts in search of food.

Asked to comment on the split in the FNL, Nqakula said: "We do not enter into issues in any of the parties but our instruction is to speed up negotiations with the people we have to."

Cases of banditry and killings are on the rise in various parts of Burundi, particularly in such areas as Bujumbura Rural, Bubanza and Bururi, where FNL combatants have a presence.

"FNL combatants can also be involved in robbery but there are armed bandits who say they are FNL fighters when they are not," said Nkurunziza after his meeting with Nqakula.

Nkurunziza did not comment on the internal divisions among the FNL combatants. He, however, said the government was only interested in "any group that is in favour of boosting peace". He hailed the willingness of FNL leaders to rejoin the peace process.

The government was ready to go ahead with the peace process and implement the ceasefire accord, the president said.

Nkurunziza, himself a former rebel leader, won the presidential elections in 2005, signalling an official end to the country's 13-year civil war in which at least 300,000 people died and hundreds of thousands more were displaced.

Source: IRIN