Burundi's military says it killed 50 members of a rebel group in clashes outside the capital Bujumbura on Wednesday night. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, rebel leaders say they still plan to go to Bujumbura next week for peace negotiations with the government.
A spokesman for Burundi's army, Colonel Adolphe Manirakiza, said soldiers killed 50 rebels from the National Liberation Forces, known by their French acronym FNL, in Kabezi, outside Bujumbura. He said two government soldiers were also killed, and four wounded.
"Our military was in Kabezi area to see if there were rebels. Our military were being in an ambush of rebels FNL and the fighting begins," Manirakiza said.
FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana, speaking to VOA from neighboring Tanzania, where the group's leadership is based, was unable to confirm the military's figures.
But he charged the government with instigating the attack, criticizing it for killing members of the FNL ahead of a planned return to negotiations. The leaders of Tanzania and Uganda, frustrated with the FNL's refusal to reach an agreement with the government, last week told the rebels' leaders to return to Burundi within 10 days to resume talks.
The FNL is the only rebel group in Burundi yet to sign a peace agreement with the government, whose president Pierre Nkurunziza is himself the leader of another rebel faction. The FNL reached a ceasefire in September 2006, but had not adhered to it fully.
A new round of fighting began last month when rebels shelled the capital. Some one-hundred people have so far been killed, with the recent clash the worst incident yet.
The FNL is demanding amnesty for its members - a current arrangement only applies to 2006 and earlier - as well as a share of jobs in the government and integration of more of its soldiers into the national army.
The government has been unwilling to endorse such measures, though it is not clear it would be able to deliver on them regardless. A constitutional amendment would be required to change the rules for distributing government jobs. But as Henri Boshoff of South Africa's Institute for Security Studies notes, the parliament, including Mr. Nkurunziza's party, has become increasingly divided.
"Some of the opposition parties have openly come out in support of the FNL, and then within his own party, there is a split so that means he hasn't got the majority even in his own party anymore," Boshoff said.
Over 300,000 people have been killed in the country's civil war, which began in 1993 pitting rebel factions from the Hutu ethnic group against the Tutsi-dominated army.