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Burundi Tutsi Parties Produce Own Draft Constitution - 2004-09-23

The leader of a Tutsi political party in Burundi says his and other Tutsi parties that oppose Burundi's current draft constitution will form their own government under their own constitution, unless the Burundi government is willing to negotiate.

The chairman of the Tutsi political party, Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development, told VOA Thursday, Burundi now has two draft constitutions.

The party chairman, Joseph Nzeimana, urged the Burundi government and Hutu political parties to sit down with the Tutsi parties, and come up with one document that represents all Burundians, or face the possibility of having two governments.

"Now, we have two constitutions," Mr. Nzeimana said. "We have to go into negotiations and get only one. We are pushing them to understand, if they don't agree to negotiate, we will go ahead, until we get two governments, two senates, two national assemblies. That situation is not good."

The group of 10 Tutsi political parties rejected the government's draft constitution because of its power-sharing clauses.

The Tutsi parties argue the power-sharing agreement, finalized last month by mostly Hutu political parties and politicians, does not guarantee that Tutsis will continue to exercise as much political power as they believe they should have.

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

Last month's draft constitution calls for a 50-50 split in the Senate and a 60-40 split in the National Assembly, with Hutus having the majority.

The Tutsi draft constitution accepts those ratios, but says the Tutsi representatives must come from Tutsi political parties, and not from Hutu-dominated parties.

It also calls for the presidency to rotate between Hutus and Tutsis about every five years, and a vice president of the opposite ethnic group who would have increased powers.

The Burundian ambassador to Kenya, Stanislas Nsabuwanka, says the power-sharing arrangement and other aspects of the government's draft constitution reflect a consensus of many different views.

He says it does not matter what type of party an ethnic-Tutsi belongs to, because, "there is no Tutsi who are more Tutsi than others."

He also rejects the idea of a rotating presidency, saying it does not matter whether the president is a Hutu or a Tutsi, because a politician's policies are what is important.

"I don't think that the vote can be ethnic," Mr. Nsabuwanka said. "It depends on the politics that you [a politician] are proposing."

President Domitien Ndayizeye recently announced that a national referendum on the government's draft constitution will be held October 20.

If the constitution is approved, elections are supposed to be held on November first.

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.

The Burundi specialist at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, Jan Van Eck, says the overall feeling in Burundi is to proceed full speed ahead, regardless of whether the Tutsi parties agree.

"People are going to push through the new constitution," Mr. Van Eck said. "They're going to go through the elections, regardless of the fact that there's a substantial opposition, you know, to this."

Mr. Van Eck says many Burundians believe the Tutsi parties' concerns can be addressed once the new, elected government is in power. To achieve this, Mr. Van Eck says, Burundi will need, "very clever and wise leadership."