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BURUNDI: Why peace remains elusive

BUJUMBURA, 7 May 2008 (IRIN) - Burundians breathed a sigh of relief in March 2008 when the government and sole remaining rebel group, the Forces nationales de libération (FNL), announced they would resume negotiations on 1 April and complete them in July. But that day came and went without any talks taking place.

Any lingering hopes for renewed dialogue were dashed when fighting broke out between the army and FNL fighters on 17 April, killing 33, with each side accusing the other of initiating the conflict.

For some observers and analysts, the clashes demonstrated the FNL’s determination to put pressure on the government and to show the outside world that it was still a force to be reckoned with.

Talks between the government and the FNL stalled in July 2007 when rebel delegates walked out of the Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JVMM), designed to oversee a ceasefire accord signed in September 2006. The rebels, whose leaders are based in neighbouring Tanzania, said they did not feel their security was guaranteed inside Burundi. They also accused mediators of bias.

Former president Domitien Ndayizeye said: "We should have expected [the fighting]; there is nothing concrete in the ceasefire accord" signed by FNL leader Agathon Rwasa and the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Jobs for the boys

Gaspard Nduwayo, a political analyst and university lecturer, said the current socio-political context also helped to explain the FNL’s will to resume fighting.

"The weakness of the government, the absence of a government response to the many demands of the population, and the public’s grievances against the CNDD-FDD’s [the governing party] rule, give strength to political opponents and legitimacy to the FNL fighting,” he said.

Nduwayo said the demobilisation of soldiers and former combatants and the circulation of other armed groups in the region would allow the FNL to easily recruit new combatants. There was no evidence that this is actually taking place, however.

But most important, he said, was the FNL’s desire to force the government to give the rebels jobs in the country's institutions, just as the CNDD-FDD did when it transformed itself from a rebel movement into a political party and went on to win elections.

Providing key posts to the FNL is problematic. Many jobs are not in the gift of the government, but are decided by elections. Handing out such posts would mean changing the constitution, a near-impossible task in the current political climate.

According to Southscan, a UK-based provider of African political and security analysis, Nkurunziza’s failure to stick to an agreement to free up to 3,000 prisoners and refusal to integrate part of the FNL into the national army also contributed to the resumption of fighting.

A question of immunity

Since the talks stalled in July 2007, the FNL has made their resumption conditional on immunity being granted to its leaders. Existing immunity legislation, according to the rebels, does not mention the group by name.

Southscan reported that the existing legislation only covered the period up to 2006, while the FNL wants the immunity to be extended to the present.

“Nkurunziza has so far not only refused these demands but has also prevented parliament, which could vote through an immunity extension, debating the issue,” according to Henri Boshoff of the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies.
“He appears not to favour a power-sharing deal because … his CNDD-FDD party would have to hand some of its posts to the FNL rebels.”

The president’s room for manoeuvre is hampered by splits within his own party linked to the jailing of former number two Hussein Rajabu on charges of plotting to overthrow the state.

Meanwhile, according to the ISS, Nkurunziza has alienated elements of the opposition whom he had hoped to win over. “As a result, parliamentary and legislative activity has remained paralysed for more than a year,” said Boshoff.

Mounting pressure

The United States unambiguously blamed the rebels for the April attacks, accusing them of violating the 2006 ceasefire. A State Department statement on 23 April commended the Bujumbura government for “its measured response” and urged the FNL to return to the JVMM.

In a message to the nation on 25 April, Nkurunziza also accused the FNL of repeated ceasefire violations and called for sanctions to be imposed on the rebels. Some analysts, however, have questioned whether such measures would be effective, given that the rebels tend not to travel out of the region or have important assets that might be frozen.

In early May, the foreign ministers of Tanzania and Uganda, meeting under the auspices of the Regional Initiative on Peace in Burundi, said Rwasa and other senior leaders had 10 days to leave Tanzania for Burundi.

"We do not accept that decision," FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana told Reuters. "We want amnesty first before we return to Burundi."

The FNL has also come under fire from the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who accused the rebel group of having 500 children within its ranks. "The outbreak of renewed fighting by the FNL of Agathon Rwasa proves once again the need to quickly separate all children from fighting forces even before a final peace deal is signed,” Radhika Coomaraswamy said.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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