UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
BURUNDI: Paramilitary youth in protest over demobilisation payments
BUJUMBURA, 24 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Members of a government-supported self-defence paramilitary organisation known as Guardiens de la paix (Guardians of Peace) disrupted activities on Thursday in several provinces in Burundi, demanding payment of demobilisation money they said had been delayed.
"We have served the army like any other soldier, we want equal treatment," a member of the unit, who declined to be named, said.
Members of the unit claimed that because they had fought on the side of the government army, they would not receive payment if the country's largest former rebel movement, the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), took control of government following its absolute majority win in communal elections held across the nation on 3 June.
In the southern town of Rumonge in Bururi Province, armed members of the unit staged a sit-in at the lakeside town and barricaded roads, paralysing movement throughout Thursday. Civilians failed to reach their places of work.
Leaders of political parties that had convened campaign rallies in Rumonge, ahead of legislative elections scheduled for 3 July, also failed to enter the town.
In the northern town of Ngozi, protesting members of the unit closed a road connecting the town to other provinces, interrupting vehicular traffic for many hours. Five members of the unit were arrested after clashes with the police.
Similarly, on Wednesday, in the eastern province of Ruyigi, members of the unit held a protest rally and brought traffic to a halt. Members of the group had vowed to continue their sit-in until they were paid. However, they relented and ended their protest after negotiations with the local administrative officials.
However, the information director at the national secretariat in charge of demobilisation, Brig-Gen Libère Hicuburundi, said the demobilisation money for all members of the unit was available.
"Each peacekeeper will be disarmed and given 100,000 Burundian francs [US $100] in a single payment, but we are still waiting for an updated list to know who is entitled to get the money," Hicuburundi said during a weekly news conference at the UN Mission in Burundi, known as ONUB.
Col Stany Nkurunziza, the officer charge of coordinating the demobilisation of members of the unit in the Second Military Region, which includes Ruyigi, said the lists had been sent to the army's chief-of-staff following the signing of a ceasefire agreement in November 2003.
However, he said that upon hearing of the demobilisation payments being made to members of the unit, almost every youth had registered as belonging to the force.
"In Butangazwa Commune [Ruyigi province] for example, the number has been multiplied by sixteen," he said.
An estimated total of 20,000 youth peacekeepers fought along side the country's army, and are awaiting demobilisation.
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