Burundi, Rebel Group Sign Peace Pact

( [email protected] ) Nov 20, 2003 09:47 AM EST

The transitional national government of Burundi and the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Forces pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD-FDD) rebel group led by Pierre Nkurunziza finalised peace negotiations on Sunday and signed an agreement endorsing political, defence and security power sharing in the war-torn country.

At the same time, the 20th summit of the Great Lakes regional peace initiative on Burundi gave the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) rebel faction led by Agathon Rwasa three months to enter negotiations with the government or face the consequences of regional action, which also appealed to the international community to support the cash-strapped peace initiative.

In a statement issued at the end of the two-day summit, the region's leaders also requested that the UN consider sending a peacekeeping operation to Burundi given the "qualitative change that has taken place following the signing of the Pretoria Protocols which have created a total condition of peace and stability in over 95 percent of the territory in Burundi".

The signing of the latest agreement between the Burundian government and the CNDD-FDD took place following the 20th summit, which was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Saturday and Sunday. The regional initiative on Burundi was established to try to put an end to the decade-long civil war that has claimed at least 300,000 Burundian lives.

Heads of state from Burundi, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Uganda attended the summit, while those from South Africa, Tanzania, Gabon, Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia were represented by senior government officials.

The summit finalised the political, defence and security power sharing agreements signed in Pretoria on 8 October and on 2 November between the CNDD-FDD and the government. The region welcomed the commitment by the two parties to permanently cease hostilities, establish the rule of law, form a national army and establish power sharing, the statement issued on Sunday said.

Pressure on FNL

Regarding the failure by FNL to begin negotiations with the government, regional leaders demanded that the rebel faction "immediately suspend hostilities and take part in negotiations within three months".

"After this deadline, and in the case of a categorical refusal to join in the negotiation process, the Burundi people, the Regional Initiative on Burundi and the African Union [AU] will consider it to be an organisation that is against peace and stability in Burundi and will treat it as such," the statement read.

It added that the summit "called upon the UN, the EU and the international community as a whole to support this position of the region and the AU regarding the FNL".

Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye said that his government would welcome the FNL into negotiations while, at the same time, maintaining the security of the people.

However, the Burundian defence minister, Vincent Niyungeke, was more forceful, suggesting that, with the war-weariness of civilians in the western province of Bujumbura Rural and the collaboration of integrated CNDD-FDD fighters, a potential showdown with the FNL might be made easier.

"These people [the CNDD-FDD] know the FNL, so if we have their support and measures need to be taken, they will help," he told IRIN. "Also, the population is sick of the war. They are being forced give donations to the FNL. They will no longer support them."

But he said that sanctions, if applied to the FNL, would work only as a political or psychological tool to isolate the organisation, labelling them as terrorists.

Nkurunziza denied on Sunday that his movement had participated in any fighting with the FNL, but said that with the organisation joining the transitional government, they would "participate in all government affairs, including making decisions on what measures will be taken against the FNL".

The summit also appealed to the UN Security Council to consider providing direct support to the process and, as a result, Burundi peace process facilitator and South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma is due to communicate to the council the request that the UN deploy a peacekeeping operation for Burundi.

Ensuring that it is implemented

Signatories to the agreement and observers were confident that the deal would be implemented, unlike many signed in the Burundi peace process in the past.

"They [the government and the CNDD-FDD] seem very sincere and I am very happy as it will be easier to implement because, this time, the details have all been agreed upon already," Berhanu Dinka, special representative of the UN Secretary-General in Burundi, told IRIN.

A diplomat who has followed the process closely said that he was "quietly confident" that the agreement would hold as the details were in place.

An analyst pointed to the immediate cessation of hostilities between the government and the CNDD-FDD following the 8 October agreement as proof of the rebels' desire for and ability to bring lasting peace in Burundi.

For their part, Ndayizeye and Nkurunziza reiterated their commitment to the agreements they signed, with the Burundian president saying that through "serious and direct discussions", the two sides had developed a greater confidence in each other.

"It is our conviction that the war will end," he said. "We have proved that the so-called experts, who predicted the failure of the Arusha process, were wrong."

But AU Chairman and Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano stressed that it was up to the Burundian people to guarantee that the agreement held and that they should "not allow any politician to drag the country back into war".

Lack of funding

During the summit, all sides decried the lack of funds for the process and urged the UN, the EU and bilateral donors to act immediately so that the momentum of the signing of the agreements was not lost.

The head of the African Mission in Burundi, Mamadou Bah, told IRIN on Sunday that although the peacekeeping troops were in place, of the $120 million required to fund the operation for a year, only $20 million had been made available so far. Only the EU, which has promised -25 million ($29.5 million) for the mission, had confirmed additional aid, he said.

Bah added that the AU troops in Burundi would not take part in any offensive against the FNL, stressing that this would be a Burundian affair.

In an impassioned appeal, the Ugandan President and chairman of the regional initiative, Yoweri Museveni, said that the region had played its role in securing a ceasefire and establishing the AU mission in Burundi, and that it was the turn of the international community to contribute.

"We need money to feed Nkurunziza's men and the AU troops," he said. "The AU has borne the brunt of the costs so far, but it cannot sustain it."

"Let the EU, who promised money, deliver it very quickly," he said.