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Burundi Peace Linked to Success of New Transitional Government - 2001-12-06

A new transitional government was installed in Burundi at the beginning of November. In addition to finding a way to reconcile Burundi's two tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi, the new government, composed of members of both tribes, must also maintain the trust of Burundi's army, which in the past has played a destabilizing role in the country.

Previous attempts at power sharing between Burundi's majority Hutu and minority Tutsi have been brought to a swift and bloody end by the Tutsi-dominated army. Tutsi have controlled Burundi's government and military since the country's independence in 1962.

When Burundi elected its first Hutu president in 1993, a few weeks after his inauguration, over 100 paratroopers, backed by armored vehicles, stormed the presidential palace and murdered him. That murder triggered a civil war between the army and Hutu rebels that continues to this day, and has taken the lives of over 250,000 people.

Political observers say any chance for peace in Burundi depends on the success of a transitional government, divided between Hutu and Tutsi, that was inaugurated on November 1. The present head of the government, Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, will lead the country for 18 months, after which his deputy, a Hutu, will take over the presidency.

But the success of the transitional government, the observers add, depends on the reform of Burundi's armed forces. According to a peace accord signed in the Tanzanian town of Arusha last year, the army is to be reformed completely. Instead of being Tutsi-dominated, it is to be made up of 50 percent Hutu and 50 percent Tutsi.

But Jan van Eck, a political analyst at South Africa's University of Pretoria, says the army will not be able to accommodate all the various Hutu factions that want to join it.

"Arusha is silent on which Hutu should form the 50 percent, and that will create major problems for the new transitional government, which now has to negotiate that," he says. "At the same time, you want to bring in the Hutu from the two armed rebellions who are fighting, and there are Hutu former fighters of the rebellion who signed a cease-fire. So at the moment, there's tremendous competition for the 50 percent quota. You can't say that all Hutu in the army should be fired. That would be absurd, because they are Hutu, and, if it's not your Hutu, you can't say, ' Sorry I don't like your Hutu.' "

South Africa's General Andrew Masondo oversaw the post-apartheid integration of his country's defense forces. He was in Burundi recently, preparing to help its army to do the same.

General Masondo says the Tutsi and Hutu soldiers must understand that the army is not a political force, but an institution that belongs to all Burundians.

"The most important thing is for the military people from all sides to accept the idea that Burundi belongs to all who live in it," says the general. "And that the military is but a tool of the people, that the military should not be an organization that is being used by any group."

General Masondo believes the government must temporarily expand the size of the armed forces so that all those who want to join can be included. Later on, he says, after the army is fully integrated, it can trim the force down to a more affordable size.

But the failure to reform the army has already led to some problems. To safeguard returning Hutu political exiles, a Burundian protection force was supposed to be created ahead of the November 1 inauguration. But the country's political leaders could not agree on its size or composition.

At the last minute, about 700 South African soldiers were flown in to protect the returning exiles. They are due to be followed by Nigerian, Ghanaian and Senegalese peacekeepers, under the flag of the United Nations.

But the presence of the South African soldiers is highly controversial, as one Burundian citizen explains.

"Frankly, I believe they have violated our national sovereignty," he says. " Apparently, there are South African forces in Burundi because the national army can't protect Burundian politicians. If these South Africans haven't come to Burundi to invade Burundi, that's okay. But some Tutsi are asking themselves if these people don't have a hidden agenda."

Mr. van Eck, the University of Pretoria analyst, says the special protection unit must be careful not to provoke the army by overstepping its limited mandate.

"If the army loses confidence in the political process, if for example the government would make concessions to unreasonable international demands, like a foreign intervention force before a cease-fire, the army would remove whoever was in power," he says.

And as observers of Burundi know, its army has a history of doing just that.