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Tutsi Party Criticizes Burundi's Draft Constitution - 2004-09-17

A referendum to approve a new constitution for Burundi is scheduled to be held next month. But at least one Tutsi party says the draft document does not reflect the views of many Tutsi Burundians, particularly on the issue of power-sharing between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups.

The chairman of the Tutsi political party, Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development, Joseph Nzeimana, told VOA Friday his group was not involved in drafting the new constitution.

Mr. Nzeimana alleges President Domitien Ndayizeye acted unilaterally and quickly in announcing the referendum for October 20.

"We [agreed on having a] referendum," said Joseph Nzeimana. "We agree that we [need to have] a constitution. But the problem is that the president of the republic and his parties are forcing [a constitution on the country that does not have] a national consensus."

Of particular concern to Mr. Nzeimana are articles arising from an agreement signed last month to share power between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, an agreement that Mr. Nzeimana's party and other Tutsi parties refused to sign.

Tutsis make up around 15 percent of Burundi's population, yet they dominate the army and political sphere. This imbalance was a major factor in the start of the civil war 11 years ago, which has claimed about 300,000 lives.

Last month's power-sharing agreement calls for a 50-50 split in the senate and a 60-40 split between Hutus and Tutsis in the National Assembly.

The Tutsi parties had argued the agreement does not guarantee that they would continue to adequately exercise political power in the country.

Mr. Nzeimana says they were also insisting that the Tutsi representatives come from Tutsi political parties, and not from Hutu-dominated parties.

Attempts by VOA to contact a government spokesman for comment were unsuccessful.

Officials from the government and the former main Hutu rebel group that has since joined the government have told various media, the power-sharing agreement and constitution have been brought about by consensus and reflect the wishes of the majority.

Following the introduction of the new constitution, elections are supposed to be held.

This follows the requirements of a peace deal that was signed in Tanzania four years ago. The deal created a three-year transitional government that is to hand over power to an elected government later this year.

But without the support of Tutsi parties, the peace process could be cast in doubt.