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Burundi Peace Talks Continue

By Derek Kilner
Nairobi
19 May 2008

Rebels in Burundi have returned to negotiations with the government in the capital Bujumbura. Both sides have pledged support for reaching a peace deal, but continued clashes in recent days underline the failure of the two sides to reach a ceasefire. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

Delegations from the rebel National Liberation Forces and the government of Burundi met for a third day in negotiations aimed at reviving a 2006 ceasefire and achieving a peace agreement.

The rebels known by the French acronym FNL are the only faction from the civil war that began in 1993 that has failed to sign a peace agreement with the government, whose president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was the head of another rebel faction.

The two sides have been unable to agree on conditions for a ceasefire, and fighting broke out between the FNL and the army on Sunday. More than 100 people have been killed since sporadic clashes resumed in April.

FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana says the continued fighting should not deter the talks.

He said achieving peace will depend on the goodwill of both parties. He says the FNL has goodwill and wants peace, and the government, as a body elected by the people of Burundi should want the same. The rebels, he says, remain optimistic about the process.

The government says it remains committed to the negotiations. But army spokesman Adolphe Manirakiza was blunt about the consequences if the talks fail.

"If the talks do not succeed, we continue the fighting," he said. "We are hoping that FNL will talk about ceasefire agreement. If not we will continue to protect our population."

The parties disagree over disarmament. The FNL wants government troops to return to their barracks, and rebels to their positions, with a peacekeeping force between them. The government wants the rebels to gather at designated centers.

The U.N. maintains a mainly-civilian peace building mission in the country.

The FNL has asked for amnesty for its members, a share of government jobs, and increased integration of its forces into the national army. The government has been unwilling to accept the conditions. Analysts say the government, facing a hostile parliament and a divided ruling party, has limited maneuverability in offering concessions.

The FNL's leaders had been in neighboring Tanzania, but returned Friday to Burundi to resume negotiations under international pressure. The negotiations are being mediated by South Africa, with support from the United Nations, African Union, European Union, Tanzania and Uganda.

Burundi's civil war began in 2003, with an assortment of rebel groups from the Hutu ethnic group - the country's largest - challenging a military dominated by the Tutsi ethnic group. The conflict killed 300,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more, many still across the border in Tanzania.



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