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South African Official Opposes Changes to Draft Burundi Constitution

The South African deputy president is being criticized for opposing an amendment to Burundi's draft constitution. The South African official is wrapping up a two-day visit to Burundi.

South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma met with Burundi President Domitien Ndayizeye and top government officials to pave the way for next month's national referendum on the constitution and elections scheduled within the next few months.

Before Burundi's constitution is put to the vote February 28, President Ndayizeye wants to change it so that people can vote directly for the president, rather than the president being chosen by the country's legislative body.

Deputy President Zuma said he opposed any changes to the draft constitution, which he and the presidents of Uganda and Tanzania helped to shape in Uganda's capital.

Burundi's vice presidential spokesman Marcien Barakana explains Mr. Zuma's position on the issue.

"The major point, he [Zuma] said he has bring [brought] a message from the sub-region and the mediation saying that there should not be any amendments of the constitution before the referendum. He said President [Yoweri] Museveni [of Uganda], [Tanzanian President Benjamin] Mkapa and himself met in Kampala [Uganda's capital], and they decided this should not be discussed anymore," said Mr. Barakana.

President Ndayizeye's party and the main former Hutu rebel group that is now in government oppose his proposal, accusing the president of wanting to hold onto power beyond his term, as outlined in the power-sharing agreement that brought him into office.

But the chairman of the Tutsi political party Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development, Joseph Nzeimana, told VOA his party supports the constitutional amendment.

"We are entering a democracy. How can you ignore the population when you talk about democracy? Democracy is coming from people and go to the people," he said.

Mr. Nzeimana accused South Africa of meddling in Burundi's affairs.

"They want to put somebody they want, so that he will not be a president of Burundi, he will be a president of Burundi from South Africa," complained Mr. Nzeimana.

Burundi is struggling to recover from an 11-year civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Tutsis make up around 15 percent of Burundi's population, yet they dominated the army and political sphere, a major factor in the start of the war that has claimed some 300,000 lives.

A peace deal was signed in Tanzania more than four years ago, which created a three-year power-sharing transitional government that was supposed to form a new constitution and hold elections last year. The constitutional referendum and elections have been delayed several times.

Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa have taken the lead in holding talks between the government and rebel groups. All but one, the National Liberation Front, have made peace with the government.

During deputy president Zuma's visit, officials said talks between the government and the rebel group are expected to take place in Tanzania's capital