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US Welcomes News of Burundi Cease-Fire - 2002-12-03

The United States has welcomed the signing of a cease-fire aimed at ending Burundi's nine-year-old civil conflict. It says it will support sanctions against the lone holdout rebel group. The United States has strongly supported settlement efforts in Burundi including the provision of about $1-million in financial backing for the Arusha peace process. In a statement volunteered to reporters, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker welcomed the cease-fire accord as a "significant step" toward a comprehensive peace for the people of the central African country.

Burundi's President Pierre Buyoya and the head of the country's largest Hutu rebel group, Pierre Nkurunziza, signed the cease-fire deal in ceremonies in the Tanzanian town of Arusha. The truce, which begins after three days, is to take full effect at the end of the month and the deal includes promises to integrate the rebels into Burundi's Tutsi-controlled army.

Spokesman Reeker hailed the "courage, responsibility and leadership" of the Burundian president and the rebel chief in agreeing to end the fighting, while lamenting that the other main rebel group has thus far refused to end its insurgency against the government:

"There remains one rebel combatant group in Burundi that refuses to lay down its arms," he said. "That is the National Liberation Front, led by Agathon Rwasa. And the United States calls on this faction, the National Liberation Front and now the only remaining obstacle to the security and safety of the people of Burundi, we call upon them to join their countrymen in seeking a constructive and peaceful transition to democracy."

Spokesman Reeker said the United States favors proposals by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who chaired the peace talks in Tanzania, to impose sanctions against the National Liberation Front and calls on the international community to support them.

He said the holdout group, which is active mainly around the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, needs to "get in the game" and consider what is best for its members and the rest of their countrymen and join in the cease-fire.

The Burundian civil war, which began in 1993, has pitted the Tutsi-led army against rebels of the country's Hutu majority and has killed at least 250,000 people.