PRESS CONFERENCE BY HEAD OF UNITED NATIONS INTEGRATED OFFICE IN BURUNDI
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 December 2007
A major challenge confronting Burundi today was the failure to implement the ceasefire agreement signed between the Government and the rebel group, the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) told correspondents at a Headquarters briefing today.
Youssef Mahmoud said the PALIPEHUTU-Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL) had signed the ceasefire agreement with the Government last September, but there had been a deadlock in its implementation of that agreement. The Integrated Office was supporting the South African facilitation, the regional initiative and the African Union in working together to get that process back on track.
There were multiple challenges facing Burundi, but that was not unusual in a post-conflict situation, he continued. Burundians were gradually owning the process, and that was a good recipe for sustainability.
On the relations between Burundi and Rwanda, he described the situation as one of good neighbourliness. There was a lot of bilateral cooperation between the two countries, and they communicated regularly now that they were both members of the East Africa Community arrangement. There was cooperation on a number of fronts.
In response to a correspondent’s question about alleged FNL dissidents, or deserters, said to be camped in some school grounds, Mr. Mahmoud said that the description of those individuals as alleged dissidents was close to the reality. The common knowledge was that some of them were FNL members, but without the FNL identifying them as such, they remained “alleged”. The United Nations was aware that many of them were underage; at the same time, it was difficult to call them children because they did not give their exact ages for fear that they would be categorized as children and removed from the camps. If they were identified as children, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the United Nations remained ready and willing, and also had the means, to take care of them and to move them from the camps. That message had been sent to both the FNL and the Government.
The United Nations and the international community had access to those sites where the individuals were, although not for the purpose of providing any assistance, he went on. As long as there were combatants with arms, the United Nations could not provide such assistance. In addition, there were legal issues involved, since the individuals had been assembled presumably for the purpose of being demobilized and reintegrated.
There was also hesitation on the part of the humanitarian community as to whether that was the best way, in the absence of the FNL, to start the process of implementing the ceasefire. The United Nations had agreed with the facilitator to work together to jointly define that pressing issue and also to work together to address the underlying causes. They had also agreed to work jointly with other partners to create propitious conditions for the FNL to return without further delay.
Continuing, he said UNICEF had procedures in place for handling those identified as children among the individuals in the camps. Such children were fed and were schooled. Some were put with families, if they did not have their own, or were returned to their own families. If they had certain skills, they were provided with opportunities to exercise them.
In response to a question, he said that he did not know the size of the FNL.
On relations between the Integrated Office and the Peacebuilding Commission, Mr. Mahmoud said the two worked as a team in support of the Burundian Government and the people of Burundi. The Office helped to ensure that the Peacebuilding Commission provided the added value it was mandated to provide. The Office had a double role: to support the Government and articulate its priorities in a manner that was understood; and provide advice to help the Peacebuilding Commission provide the appropriate response. Most importantly, it worked to help the Peacebuilding Commission strike a balance between national ownership and external assistance.
The achievements of the Peacebuilding Commission to date included maintaining the attention of the international community on Burundi, at a time when Burundians felt perhaps abandoned after the withdrawal of the peacekeeping operation there, he went on. That created a sense of stability, as well as a feeling that the international community was ready to engage with the country, but under a different guise. Another achievement was in the convening power of the Commission, in the sense that, by its composition, it could be an advocate for the pressing needs and priorities of the country. The Commission had largely succeeded at that task through the various sessions it had with multiple partners, particularly with the Bretton Woods institutions.
The most important achievement of the Commission was the development of the strategic plan for peace, in partnership with the Integrated Office and the Government, said Mr. Mahmoud. That plan was essentially a compact that outlined the commitment of the Government in terms of what it would do to sustain peace and what the Commission would do to support it. The value was not so much in the document itself, but in the process it went through. The occasion was used to get the political groups to say what their roles and responsibilities would be, thereby creating ownership. Unlike peacekeeping and peacemaking, peacebuilding was an indigenous and internally driven process.
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For information media • not an official record
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