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Burundi's Government and Largest Rebel Group Sign Cease-Fire - 2002-12-03


Burundi's largest rebel movement and the government have signed a cease-fire aimed at ending the country's nine-year civil war. Regional leaders are threatening to use sanctions to get Burundi's second-largest rebel group to also lay down its arms.

Representatives of the Burundian government and the rebel Forces for the Defence of Democracy, signed the agreement after midnight, following lengthy negotiations.

Rebel-leader Pierre Nkurunziza then shook hands with Burundian President Pierre Buyoya at a ceremony in the town of Arusha, in neighboring Tanzania.

The cease-fire is due to go into effect December 30.

Rebels from Burundi's Hutu majority took up arms against the Tutsi-dominated army in 1993 to fight for greater representation in Burundi's government and army.

Promises to integrate the rebels into the army, and into Burundi's transitional coalition government, are key to the rebel group's decision to lay down its arms.

The transitional government, inaugurated last November, is due to hand over power to a Hutu president in May. Eighteen months later, Burundi will hold democratic elections.

Two smaller rebel factions signed a cease-fire on October 7.

But speaking from Burundi, analyst Jan van Eck warned that the agreements would not bring an end to fighting in the country because the second-largest rebel group has not agreed to a cease-fire. "That positive aspect is undermined actively by the fact that the other, the second largest rebellion, Palipehutu-FNL are not involved and will continue the war," he said. "So the dilemma is, how do you implement a cease-fire, which is impartial, while the whole population will see the war continues?"

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who chaired the Arusha meeting, said regional leaders are on the verge of introducing strong sanctions to pressure the FNL to sign a cease-fire.

But Mr. van Eck doubts such sanctions would be effective. "It is a highly organized, very mobile guerrilla movement that works in small units. And if the Burundian army has not been able to neutralize them, I am not sure what kind of sanctions could have an effect on this movement at all," he said.

The FNL says the South African-led mediation team is biased in favor of the Burundi government. It also wants foreign troops out of Burundi before it will agree to a cease-fire.

Burundi's nine-year civil war has already cost more than 300,000 lives.

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