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Members of Burundi Rebel Group Flee Peace Talks

Key members of Burundi's last rebel group have escaped into the bush before the completion of peace talks in the country's capital Bujumbura. Government officials say they see this move as a sign of aggression. For VOA, Arjun Kohli has this report from Nairobi.

Peace talks aimed at implementing a cease-fire agreement between the Burundi National Liberation Forces, known by the acronym FNL, and the government are stalled after the disappearance, beginning on Saturday, of at least four key members from the rebel delegation.

Jean Berchamns Ndayshimiye, the military leader of the FNL, was the first to disappear. Diplomats say he fled to the bush to join his troops in Bujumbura Rural Province. They say he escaped despite the presence of AU troops who were at the negotiations.

Government spokeswoman, Hafsa Mossi, says the negotiations were important for peace and stability in the east African country.

"They were discussing about the implementation of the peace accord," Mossi said. "The mechanism to be put in place to start implementing the peace accord. We were in the process. That's why they were even guarded by security guards from the African Union. It's very significant in the sense that this was the last rebel group in Burundi, and we could finally see the peace and stability in Burundi after they joined the other Burundian people to come in and lead their country. So if they ran away it means what it means, It means they do not want to be part of the process."

The Hutu FNL is the last of seven rebel groups without an arrangement with the government.

Although Hutus comprise the majority of the population, Tutsis have been politically and economically dominant in the region. Peace agreements have been reached since November 2003 when one former rebel group, the CNDD-FDD signed a cease-fire and power sharing agreement. In March 2004, members of the CNDD-FDD entered the government and parliament. President Nkurunziza was elected in 2005.

Government spokeswoman Mossi says there is no reason for the FNL to continue fighting.

"They want full democracy for everyone," Mossi said. "They want to be free.. They want all the ethnic groups to be involved in the institutions and all that is being done so there is really no point in them to be fighting today. That's all they've been doing all along… killing people, taking hostages…I think they were doing that at the same time that the CNDD-FDD was fighting around the capital and in some few places in the country."

Since Burundi achieved independence from Belgium in 1962, one president and one prime minister have been assassinated, and civil war in the early 1990s preceded the influx of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees during that country's violent conflict. The activities of armed Hutu and Tutsi groups further destabilized Burundi's government in the mid 90s.

Hafsa Mossi says the FNL wants democracy and power sharing but is not continuing with negotiations. FNL leaders were not available for comment.

Late last month the police arrested and detained eight members of the FNL, in particular members of a wing which calls itself the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu people led by Agathon Rwasa. Two grenades and a list of funders for the group were seized.