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South African Mediator Leaves Burundi - 2004-07-27


South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma left Burundi Tuesday after failing to convince the country's Tutsi political parties to accept his blueprint for ending Burundi's 11-year civil war. Meanwhile, Burundi's largest Hutu rebel faction says it has ended a three-month boycott of the transitional government.

Jacob Zuma arrived in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, on Monday hoping to revive ethnic power-sharing talks that broke down in Pretoria last week.

The talks ended after Burundi's main Tutsi minority party, UPRONA, rejected Mr. Zuma's plan to split power 50-50 between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis in the Senate and a 60-40 split between Hutus and Tutsis in the National Assembly.

But the change of venue did little to convince UPRONA and several other Tutsi parties involved in the talks that Mr. Zuma's proposals could work. They walked out of a meeting late Monday night, accusing the South African leader of showing bias toward Burundi's Hutu majority.

Tutsi politicians argue the mediator's plan does not adequately guarantee that Tutsis will continue to exercise political power in Burundi. Tutsis have led the country almost uninterrupted since independence in 1962, even though they make up just 14 percent of the population.

The leader of the Tutsi political party, Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development, Joseph Nzeimana, says Mr. Zuma refused to alter the proposals, saying the majority of Burundians were satisfied with the power-sharing arrangement.

The South African mediator then asked the Tutsi parties to meet with Hutus to work out a compromise. But Mr. Nzeimana says the request is unacceptable.

"How can we meet them? They are very happy with the resolution presented in Pretoria, which is not correct for Tutsis," he said. "We are not happy so how can we talk with them? You cannot be a facilitator and show that you are helping just one party and not the other one."

Mr. Zuma says he respects the difference of views but denies he has shown bias.

The latest political dispute is overshadowing Tuesday's announcement that Burundi's largest Hutu rebel faction has rejoined the transitional government after a three-month boycott.

The Forces for the Defense of Democracy, known as FDD, quit the government in May, complaining of a lack of progress in several areas, including the appointment of FDD officials to powerful administrative posts and the release of hundres of rebel prisoners.

A spokesman for FDD told journalists in Bujumbura that the group's demands have now largely been met.

FDD's return to politics means that only one other small Hutu rebel movement, the National Liberation Forces, is still refusing to negotiate with the transitional administration.

A Hutu government official says he believes FDD's decision has put Burundi's peace process back on track.

Burundi has been struggling to emerge from more than a adecade of ethnic conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis that has claimed more than 300,000 lives.

Four years ago, a peace deal was signed in Arusha, Tanzania that provided for the creation of a three-year transitional government. That government is to hand over power to an elected one this year. But without full Hutu and Tutsi participation in the political process, it is unclear how the country will be able to hold political elections in October as mandated in the Arusha accord.

Burundi's interim Hutu president, Domitien Ndayizeye, has already said that elections would be impossible while disputes and clashes continue.

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