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Burundi Ready to Meet Demands of Former Rebel Group - 2004-05-04

Burundi's government has offered to meet the demands of a former rebel group that withdrew from the transitional government on Monday. But a South Africa-based regional analyst says the dispute is a symptom of deeper divisions within the government.

A spokesman for the Burundi vice-president's office, Marcien Barakawa, says the Burundian government is committed to its power-sharing arrangement with the Forces for the Defense of Democracy, and is ready to meet the group's demands. Mr. Barakawa says the government will appoint FDD officials to government posts within a week, in keeping with the peace accord they signed in November.

"The government was willing to settle down everything within seven days as far as the requests of the FDD were concerned," he said.

Attempts by VOA to contact FDD Secretary-General Hussein Rajabu were not successful. Mr. Rajabu told the French news agency AFP his group is still waiting to be given the positions promised to it.

Still, the Burundi specialist at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, Jan Van Eck, told VOA the FDD's withdrawal is a dramatic development.

"It is a symptom of further divisions and differences of opinion on issues that in actual fact are even potentially more serious than the one which has resulted in them suspending their participation in government," he said.

Mr. Van Eck says he thinks the boycott reflects what the Forces for the Defense of Democracy and others feel is an over-representation in government of the minority Tutsi ethnic group.

For example, he says, Burundi is attempting to re-write its constitution. He says the present constitution calls for 50 percent of the army and 40 percent of the administration to be from the Tutsi ethnic group, as spelled out in a power-sharing deal signed in 2000.

Mr. Van Eck says the FDD wants all references to these ethnic quotas taken out of the new constitution.

"So they feel that the Tutsi who represent 15-percent of the population, you know, should have not such a huge slice of military and political power," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Van Eck adds, the government wants to keep the ethnic quotas in the new constitution. But he does not expect the disagreement to cause a resumption of the civil war.