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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Tuesday 4 January 2005

BURUNDI: Progress, but will it be enough? //Yearender//

BUJUMBURA, 4 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - The plan was for 2004 to be the year that Burundi held democratic elections, marking the definitive end of an 11-year civil war. This did not happen and, though fighting has not resumed in most parts of the country, the peace process has slowed and could yet stall.

There are signs that Burundians are trying to work out their differences peacefully. Tens of thousands of refugees have returned from surrounding countries, particularly from Tanzania.

Real power-sharing arrangements between Hutus and Tutsis have been established, notes Charles Ndayiziga, the executive secretary of the Centre for Alert and Prevention of Conflict.

For the first time in Burundi's history, the army's senior officer corps has been opened to the country's Hutu majority.

Ordinary people are eager to reconcile, said political analyst Lonidas Havyarimana, who is also a parliamentarian. So much so, he said, that they are limiting politicians' ability to exploit ethnic differences.

"Politicians are totally disconnected from people's concerns," he added. "They are fighting their own war."

Background

Burundi has been in turmoil since the October 1993 assassination of its first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, in an aborted military coup by a section of the Tutsi-dominated military. Ndadaye's assassination sparked a Hutu uprising that later became a fully-fledged rebel war involving a multiplicity of insurgent groups and factions.

By 2003, all but one of the insurgent groups had joined Burundi's transitional government following a series of ceasefire agreements, and fighting ended in all but one province.

In June 2003, the African Union (AU) sent in a buffer force. A UN peacekeeping mission, known as ONUB, with a mandate to deploy up to 5,650 troops, replaced it in June 2004.

Demobilising combatants

While most of the country remained relatively calm throughout 2004, there were sporadic attacks in the western province of Bujumbura-Rural, the stronghold of a faction of the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL), the only group that has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the government.

Although relatively small, the FNL faction, which is led by Agathon Rwasa, is a real danger to the peace process, according to Havyarimana. "FNL may be able to recruit combatants from pre-assembly areas where they have been waiting [to demobilise] for more than a year without pay and cut off from their leaders," he said.

So far, an ONUB-led programme has demobilised less than 2000 combatants and government soldiers. Around 55,000 combatants are still waiting for demobilisation and re-integration.

DRC conflict

The renewed conflict in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could spread to Burundi and be a boost to the FNL, Ndayiziga said. The rebels could exploit ethnic tensions and take advantage of renewed weapons trafficking in the region.

The FNL claimed responsibility for a massacre in August of 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees at Gatumba transit camp on the Burundi side of the border with the DRC. The UN is continuing to investigate whether armed groups on the DRC side of the border, which are aligned to FNL, also took part.

Democratisation

Bickering over power-sharing arrangements has caused delays in the election timetable and the country risks continued instability and violence.

According to the original timetable for the transitional process, 1 November 2004 was supposed to have been the date for power to be transferred to newly elected leaders. However, in mid-October, leaders in the region met and endorsed an extension of the transition period.

A referendum on the constitution, which is to mark the start of the election process, was postponed from 31 October to 22 December and again, for a third time, to an unspecified day in early 2005.

Presidential elections, set for April 2005, may have to be delayed again also.

According to the chairman of the National Independent Electoral Commission, Paul Ngarambe, the delays are just "logistic and technical problems". However, with the repeated delays come increased doubts about the legitimacy and independence of the commission and the leadership.

The politicians lack the will to hold elections, according to Havyarimana. "Political actors, particularly parliamentarians, benefit from the extension of the transition period," he said.

"For them, elections open the road to uncertainty," he said. "How else can you explain that a government, which called for a referendum [on a post-transition constitution] in October, is now proposing to amend that same constitution?"

[On the Net: IRIN's 2004 chronology of events in Burundi: http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=44872 ]

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004



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