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Burundi Rebel Group Accepts Offer to Meet President - 2004-01-05

A Burundi rebel group that had steadfastly refused to join the country's peace process says it is ready to meet with Burundi's president.

The National Liberation Forces (FNL) said Monday it plans to meet with President Domitien Ndayizeye sometime this month.

Until now, the Hutu rebel group has vowed to talk peace only with members of the Tutsi ethnic group, which dominates Burundi's national army. President Ndayizeye is a Hutu.

All throughout last year, the FNL had refused to join peace talks between the government and another Hutu rebel group, a faction of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy, or FDD.

The government and FDD signed a peace deal in November that aims to integrate the former rebels into the government and national army.

But the Liberation Forces has continued its insurgency. And last week, the government accused the FNL of killing the Vatican's representative in Burundi, Archbishop Michael Courtney, which the group denied.

FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana told reporters that President Ndayizeye had personally invited the group to discuss its problems with him, and the FNL accepted the invitation.

The talks are to take place between January 15 and 20, Mr. Habimana said.

Analysts say it would be impossible to bring peace to Burundi unless the FNL was included in the process.

An estimated 300,000 people have died in Burundi's decade-long civil war.