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UN Troop Withdrawal Continues in Burundi

Over the next few months, about 40 percent of the UN peacekeeping force in Burundi will be withdrawn. Troops have started to leave the country following an agreement between the Burundi government and the UN Security Council.

Wilton Fonseca is the chief spokesman for the UN mission in Burundi, called ONUB. From Bujumbura, he gave English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua an update on the troop withdrawal.

“We had the departure of the Mozambican company during the weekend. This is the first step of downsizing of about 40% of the total number of military here in Burundi. By the end of 2006, there should be about 60% of the initial figures here in Burundi.”

Asked if he is confident that the remaining troops will be able to maintain the peace, he says, “This is the belief of the government of Burundi and the international community accepts this point of view. And as far as we know, everything will be ok.”

This week, some news reports from Maputo quoted returning Mozambican troops as saying they thought the disarmament and demobilization of the combatants was a fragile process and that the situation in Burundi remains uncertain. Mr. Fonseca says, “I also saw these reports coming from Maputo and they quoted a Mozambican military (sic) whose name is totally unfamiliar to me. I don’t know who that person is…but that is not the point of view of the United Nations."

After the departure of the Mozambican forces, the Kenyan contingent will leave in mid-February. Ethiopian troops are set to leave in the beginning of March, followed by the Jordanians at the end of March. In early April, Pakistani engineers will depart, followed by South African aviation personnel at the end of April. Discussions are currently underway for the withdrawal of the remaining 60% of UN forces in Burundi.