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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

19 October 1999

Cheikh Tidiane Sy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations office in Burundi, told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing today that United Nations operations there had entered phase four, which meant that its activities in the field had been drastically reduced.

He said that was due to the deteriorating situation in Burundi and continuing violence in the areas surrounding the capital in the eastern part of the country. Also, Julius Nyerere’s death had affected the peace process for which he had been the facilitator and mediator.

At the moment, there was a need to keep those negotiations moving on the right track, he noted. Therefore, the Secretariat had held consultations yesterday with special envoys from the European Union, Canada and the United States, among others, as well as with representatives of the Secretary-General in the region, in an effort to reflect and decide on further measures to be taken towards achieving a final political settlement.

A correspondent asked whether there was any similarity between the situation in Burundi and that in Rwanda –- a continuous fight between the Hutus and Tutsis.

The Special Representative replied that the major cause of the conflict, like most similar crises in Africa, was political power. Ethnicity was being used by the various parties in the struggle as an excuse. The ethnic component or parameters could not be ignored, but the basic cause of the conflict was power.

Asked about who was winning, he said that there was no winner, but the losers were the innocent civilians. Neither the official army nor the rebels were winning, he added.

Was the power struggle being won by Hutus or Tutsis? another journalist asked. He responded that, in his own assessment, and he might be wrong, there was no outright winner, militarily. He thought the sides had come to a conclusion that the only viable solution was to renegotiate. They were negotiating, he emphasized, but, simultaneously, violence continued.

Had there been any moves to find a new mediator for the peace process? a correspondent asked.

That must be done, he responded. However, given the circumstances –- Mr. Nyerere was not yet buried –- it would be improper to talk about his replacement now. He was certain consultations were undergoing within the region and in the international community. The topic had already been discussed during the consultations yesterday. However, there had been no designation, as yet. That would have to be done through consultations within the region, with the various parties in Burundi, as well as at the level of the international community.

Another correspondent asked how the killings of United Nations staff affected its operations on the ground. Who was responsible and did the Organization blame the Government for not providing enough security?

The Special Representative responded that, at the moment, it was difficult to blame either the Government or the rebels, since investigations were currently being conducted by both the Government and the United Nations. However, according to reports from those who had been ambushed, indications seemed to point to the rebels. As a result, the country team had been meeting to evaluate what needed to be done in terms of reducing the size of the agencies. He had just received information that they were still meeting and nothing had been finalized. In principle, the country team had agreed to reduce its personnel and send away those who were not necessarily needed at the moment.

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