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Burundi Rebel Group Renounces Landmine Use - 2003-12-16

One of Burundi's major rebel groups, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, says it has renounced the use of landmines. The group says its pledge to support a total ban on anti-personnel mines will take effect a few weeks after the signing of a peace agreement in Dar es Salaam with the Burundian government.

The rebel group affirmed its commitment to ban the use of landmines at an official ceremony Monday morning attended by Geneva authorities and representatives of the government of Burundi.

Elizabeth Reusse-Decrey is the president of Geneva Call, a humanitarian organization which brokered the agreement over the last six months. She calls the rebels' commitment to ban landmines an important life-saving measure.

Human rights groups estimate between 60 and 100 people, mainly civilians, are killed or maimed by landmines in Burundi every month.

Ms. Reusse-Decrey says it is critical that de-mining programs get underway very quickly along the Burundi-Tanzanian border. She says returning refugees face dangers from the many landmines planted along the frontier. She says more and more of the one-half million refugees living in Tanzania are going back to Burundi, as the decade-long civil war appears to be coming to an end.

"We are very worried about the question of the refugees," she said. "They learned the peace process is going on. They are very happy. They want to come back and we know in such a situation, always the number of victims is increasing when the refugees come. So, we have to launch very quickly de-mining programs and mine risk education programs in Burundi because it is very important."

Ms. Reusse-Decrey says de-mining activities and mine awareness programs can get underway in the 16 provinces where peace has been established. She adds this is not yet possible in the 17th province, where fighting is still going on.

The rebel National Council for the Defense of Democracy recently joined the transitional government in Burundi, but the movement still controls its own troops. Another rebel group, the National Liberation Force, so far has refused to join the peace negotiations and is continuing to fight the government.