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Burundi's President, Rebel Leader to Discuss Peace Accord - 2003-01-23


Burundi's president travels to South Africa Friday where he will hold talks with a rebel leader aimed at preventing the country's fragile peace accord from falling apart.

Burundian President Pierre Buyoya is flying to South Africa to discuss political aspects of the peace accord with rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza. South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma will mediate the talks.

The meetings come as some 60,000 Burundians have fled their homes to escape fighting between the army and rebels in central Burundi over the last several days.

Rebels of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy signed a cease-fire with Burundi's Tutsi dominated army in December, aimed at ending nearly a decade of civil war.

The rebel soldiers assembled in camps, which were supposed to be guarded by United Nations troops and observers, while the political aspects of the peace accord were discussed.

But those forces have not yet arrived.

Short of food, some rebels have left the camps and started looting and fighting with the army.

South African-based Burundi analyst Jan van Eck says the international community has let Burundi down by heavily pressuring the two sides to sign a cease-fire and then doing nothing to support its implementation.

"I think that Burundi deserves better. We have a chance. But when you make such a peace agreement between two main opponents then you have to make sure there is follow up," he said. "You can't just leave it. Then it unravels as it is doing now. It's undermining the confidence in the whole process yet again in Burundi and therefore we are also seeing now, signs of further resistance from the more hard-line Tutsi groupings within the country."

Burundi's Tutsi minority has dominated the government and army since independence in 1962. The peace accord aims to manage a transition to a democratically elected government, which would hand over power to the Hutu majority for the first time.

Mr. van Eck says the clearest sign that the rebels, known as the FDD, lack faith in the December peace agreement is their decision to recruit new soldiers, just when they are supposed to be demobilizing.

"What is most worrying is not only that the FDD is fighting but that there is evidence that the FDD is actually busy recruiting new fighters amongst the young men in Burundi and it's also alleged that they even send them to Tanzania for further training as fighters," Mr. van Eck added. "This is a worrying aspect when a movement which has signed a cease-fire continues recruiting."

The South African mediator has won a promise from Ethiopia, Mozambique and South Africa to send troops to Burundi before the accord collapses. But the African Union is still struggling to find funds to pay for the deployment.

Mr. van Eck says it is not likely the troops will arrive before the end of the month and, as a result, he says, the conflict will continue.

Some 300,000 people, mostly civilians, have already been killed in Burundi's nine-year-old civil war.

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