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Recent Attack Seen Impacting Progress in Burundi Peace Agreement - 2004-08-16


The recent attack on a refugee camp in Burundi that left about 150 Congolese Tutsis dead has heightened regional tensions, with Burundi closing its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. A South African-based analyst says the massacre will make it even more difficult for Tutsi and Hutu political parties in Burundi to reach a power-sharing agreement that would end the country's long-running civil war.

A Burundi specialist with the Institute for Strategic Studies, Jan Van Eck, says the attack last Friday on the Tutsi refugee camp near the Congolese border could hinder the fragile Burundi peace process. He says relations between Tutsi and Hutu political parties attempting to create a power-sharing agreement to end 11 years of war were already highly strained.

But, Mr. Van Eck says, the latest attack - believed to have been carried out by Hutu extremists and a militia based in Congo along with a Hutu rebel group based in Burundi - could make things worse. "It merely, you know, highlights the ethnic nature of the conflict and can only lead to Tutsis feeling even less secure than they say they are," he says. "It obviously makes power-sharing between the parties much more difficult due to the consequentials of decrease in trust."

Under terms of a peace deal signed four years ago, Burundi's transitional government is to hand over power by the end of this year.

South Africa has taken the lead in mediating peace talks leading up to elections scheduled for October. But in July, the country's main Tutsi minority party rejected a plan for a 50-50 power split between Hutus and Tutsis in the Senate and a 60-40 split between Hutus and Tutsis in the National Assembly.

Tutsis comprise about 15 percent of Burundi's population.

The refugees who were killed in last Friday's attack were among some 26-thousand Tutsi Congolese who fled fighting in Congo earlier this year. Burundi closed its border with Congo Sunday, citing security concerns.

Relations between Congo and Rwanda have also been strained in recent times, with Rwanda accusing Congo of harboring Hutu extremists responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which up to 800,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutu extremists.

Mr. Van Eck says the Tutsis' fears of being persecuted by Hutus is a regional problem. "It has never been seen by Tutsis to be merely a Burundian ethnic problem. Even on the Hutu side, I would say, it has also been seen as being a desire to bring about majority rule for Hutus wherever they are in whichever country they are," he says. "So this conflict is not just a Burundian conflict."

Mr. Van Eck says it is still unclear who was responsible for Friday's attack

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