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Burundi's Cabinet Pushes for Partial Immunity for Rebels

A bill that would grant partial immunity to members of Burundi's remaining rebel group has been endorsed by the Cabinet in a bid to bring peace to the country.

Under the legislation, which has yet to be approved by parliament, members of the National Liberation Movement (FNL) would be granted immunity for political crimes, but not for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The bill is reportedly part of the ceasefire agreement that the rebel group signed with the Burundi government in Tanzania in September.

Chantal Mutamuriza is executive director of the human rights group Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture.

Mutamuriza tells VOA the immunity provision is a compromise that she hopes will bring peace in the long run.

"This is a pre-condition, because if they [the rebels] think that, if they come, they can be put in jail, they cannot accept to come, but we need that negotiation to take place," she said. "As a human rights defender, this is a violation against human rights to give immunity to people who have committed such crimes, but I think that, as Burundi is supposed to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the special tribunal, this can be dealt with after."

VOA could not reach the rebels for comment. The French news agency quotes rebel group spokesman Pasteur Habimana as criticizing the government for delaying on this and other commitments it made during the September talks.

Burundi's civil war broke out in 1993, after the Tutsi-dominated army assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, who was a Hutu. Some 300,000 people were killed in that conflict.

A peace process beginning in 2000 culminated in democratically held elections last year. The peace process called for the various rebel groups fighting in the war to be integrated into the army and government.

The FNL has yet to do so.

In talks brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and others, the Burundi government and FNL signed a ceasefire in Tanzania in September.

Also in an effort to bring peace to the country, at the end of March, United Nations and government officials agreed on the terms of two new bodies to help the country move forward.

The bodies are: the truth and reconciliation commission; and a justice commission that would prosecute crimes against humanity committed in Burundi since independence in 1962.