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PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OF BURUNDI

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

16 September 2005

Emerging from crisis and entering a stage of national reconstruction and recovery, Burundi required significant support from its friends, the international community and specifically from donors and development partners, Pierre Nkurunziza, the recently elected President of Burundi, said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Giving an update on the country’s political situation, he said that having suffered from years of conflict, the main challenges now facing the new Burundi Government, was the large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. Mr. Nkurunziza was inaugurated on 26 August as the first democratically elected President since the start of Burundi’s civil war in 1993 after his party, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), scored a decisive victory in national elections.

Asked how the United Nations should proceed on the issue of “the responsibility to protect”, the President said his country had been plagued by tension since independence in 1961, and the population had been subjected to a great deal of suffering. The international community, particularly the United Nations, had paid close attention to Burundi’s situation, investigations had been carried out, and numerous reports had been issued. The country was now entering a decisive phase in its history.

He said the peace was protected by regional agreements and the United Nations, which had stationed troops in Burundi in compliance with those agreements. The country’s main priorities included the need to ensure respect for human rights and to promote the democratic process. Efforts had already started in that regard, and the international community must continue to support Burundi, which had made a good start, but still needed international support.

Had the Summit been a failure or success as far as poverty alleviation and meeting the needs of Africa were concerned? a correspondent asked.

President Nkurunziza replied that the Summit had certainly not been a failure. Of course, there were “problems here and there”, but steps had already been taken to reduce poverty, for instance. There were also hopes for the very poor countries. The poorest of them were now enjoying debt relief or seeing partners coming to invest.

As for Burundi, the political environment was very positive for the resumption of economic activity, he said. Domestically, efforts were under way to ensure that those in power had a responsible attitude. Steps were also being taken to promote democracy and combat impunity. All that could be achieved only on a viable and responsible basis, “if the political effort is sound from the outset, if there is respect for authority on behalf of the population and things go well as far as reduction of poverty and development are concerned”.

Asked what he intended to do about the Front national de liberation (FNL), a faction that did not recognize the new Government’s legitimacy, President Nkurunziza said there had been negotiations to convince the rebels to join the political process. The Government was no longer a transitional one, but an elected Government, which was willing to negotiate. The ball was now in the FNL’s court.

To another question, he said there was a new dynamic at the regional level, whereby all available political and economic resources would be used to stabilize the Great Lakes region. The international community was trying to ensure that the appropriate conditions for development were in place. The elections had been completed in Burundi, the democratic process had been successful in Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was preparing for elections. Instead of focusing on war, the people were now looking at peace. As for the problem of refugees from all three countries, with the authorities established, people wanted to return home.

He said that a Great Lakes regional conference would soon be held in Nairobi, where a common strategy for the entire region would be worked out. There was also a positive move towards regional integration, and Burundi, like Rwanda a few months ago, would be joining the East African Community.

Responding to a question regarding the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and the problem of impunity, he said the people of Burundi had chosen his party’s programme by electing him. Now it was important to make a real break with the past, achieve national reconciliation and resolve differences. Among the steps already undertaken were the reintegration of the army and police and the holding of elections. Priorities also included rebuilding the country, strengthening its infrastructure, providing assistance to the victims, ensuring repatriation and addressing the problems of orphans and HIV/AIDS.

He added that a decision had been taken to provide free primary education for all children, including orphans and street children. As for impunity, it was important, first of all, to find out what had actually happened, probably through the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission. Then the issue of justice would be addressed.

On reform of the army, he said that a national defence force had been created that integrated former enemies -- the army and former rebel combatants. The important thing now was to give them professional training and introduce a code of ethics. There was also a national police force, which needed training and technology.

What would he bring back to the people of Burundi from the Summit? a correspondent asked.

President Nkurunziza said the country had participated in the Summit as a new country, displaying a new image. All those countries and development partners that had interrupted their cooperation with Burundi now believed it was time to resume contacts and to mobilize resources for rebuilding.

Asked about the role of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the country’s reconstruction, he said UNDP had an important role to play in providing assistance, reviving the economy in many sectors, ensuring good governance and implementing management reforms. The role of FAO was no less important as Burundi was 94 per cent dependent on agriculture.

During the war, there had been no possibility of promoting modern agricultural practices, but now there was the additional problem of industrial crops, including coffee and cotton. Now that peace had been restored, emphasis would be placed on education and arming the farmers with the means to increase production. The Government wanted to set up training institutions so that the farmers could “farm better, grow more and sell their crops”.

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For information media • not an official record



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