Leaders of five African nations have met in South Africa to discuss the Burundi peace process. They were trying to work out practical details before the installation of a transitional government.
Heads of state from Gabon, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo met in Pretoria for the one-day talks. Another five nations sent representatives, as did two rebel groups that have not taken part in the main peace talks in Arusha, Tanzania.
Under an agreement signed recently in Arusha, a power-sharing transitional government is supposed to take power in Burundi by November first.
Analyst Jan van Eck of the University of Pretoria has been playing an informal facilitation role in the peace process. He told South African state radio this round of talks centered on the safety of exiled political leaders who will be returning to Burundi to take up their positions in the transitional government. "The major issue is that for the transitional government to be installed on the first of November, a few weeks from now, there has to be a unit created that provides protection for the political leaders who signed the Arusha accord but who have been in exile for the past five or seven years," he said.
Mr. van Eck says it looks likely that the security role will be played by foreign troops. South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana have volunteered to send troops for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Burundi.
Sources close to the talks say the Pretoria meeting is a crucial one. Implementation of the power-sharing agreement could be delayed if the exiled political leaders do not feel confident of their safety when they return home.
The facilitator of the peace process, former South African President Nelson Mandela, remains publicly optimistic that the transitional government will take over on schedule. But others, including Burundian President Pierre Buyoya, are more skeptical.
A civil war has racked the central African country since 1993. Ethnic Hutu rebels are battling the Burundian government and army, which are both controlled by the country's small Tutsi minority. More than 200,000 people have died in the conflict. Another 300,000 are exiled, mostly in Tanzania. Despite the Arusha agreement, there is still no cease-fire in place.