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S. Africa Hosts Burundi Talks - 2003-10-30

The government of Burundi and the country's main rebel group are meeting in South Africa in the hope of completing a peace accord signed in early October.

A key point in the talks between the Burundi government and a faction of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy is whether the rebels can form their own political party and be granted temporary immunity.

The two sides are also finalizing rebel representation in Burundi's senate and the composition of the national army.

South Africa's Vice President Jacob Zuma is mediating the talks, which opened in Pretoria Wednesday and are expected to continue through Friday.

A regional summit in which the two sides are to sign the final peace accord is scheduled to take place in mid-November. The skeleton agreement signed October 8 enables the rebels to hold a certain number of positions in the army, national assembly, and other government institutions.

Optimism about the success of the negotiations is being tempered by the fact that another rebel group, the National Liberation Forces, refuses to join the talks.

A spokesman for the National Liberation Forces, Pasteur Habimana, says his group had been excluded from previous negotiations, and therefore, will not take part in the Pretoria talks. He says he also objects to what he sees as the Tutsi-controlled military's domination of Burundi's Hutu-led government.

Mr. Habimana says there is no government in Burundi. The government is being led by the ones who have been raping and stealing, he says.

Burundi Vice President Alphonse-Marie Kadege told reporters in Nairobi his government has made repeated attempts to bring the Liberation Forces into the peace talks. He blames much of the recent violence in Burundi on the Liberation Forces.

Mr. Kadege says following the signing of the October 8 agreement, the fighting in the country's capital Bujumbura was between the Forces for the Defense of Democracy and the National Liberation Forces.

It was a conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis that sparked Burundi's civil war in 1993. An estimated 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict.