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Reassurances to Tutsi Soldiers Key to Burundi Peace Process - 2001-08-20

In Burundi, a transitional government with a mandate to end years of civil war officially begins work on November 1. But much needs to be done between now and November if real peace is going to come to Burundi.

The transitional government, which is to be in place for three years, has one paramount goal: ending years of fighting between the forces of Burundi's Tutsi-led government and rebels from the Hutu majority.

Some 200,000 people have died in eight years of fighting between the two sides.

Under the terms of an agreement reached July 23 in Arusha, Tanzania, Burundian President Pierre Buyoya is to lead the government for the first 18 months of the transition period.

But an attempted coup on the eve of Arusha meeting showed sections of Burundi's Tutsi-led military remain opposed to the peace deal. Part of the reason for this is the Hutu rebels have to agree to a cease-fire. Also, as part of the peace process, the Tutsi-dominated army must recruit Hutus so as to become ethnically balanced.

Francois Grignon, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based policy group, says the international community must take steps to reassure the Tutsi soldiers that they can have a good future in a peaceful Burundi. "There is a lack of understanding about what Arusha can lead to from inside the army in a context where there is no cease-fire," Mr. Grignon said. "The international community needs to tell the Burundian military that they are not going to be sent to the streets, that demobilization is not the end of their career. Demobilization is going to provide them with new opportunities, opportunities to start a different life, to actually improve their situation and build a better future for their families."

Mr. Grignon says progress on talks about reforming the army will also persuade the Hutu rebels to agree to a cease-fire. "There's going to be a need to obtain a cease-fire," Mr. Grignon said. "The rebellion doesn't have any fundamental grievances that can hold in the light of the recent developments."

Last year, the international community promised to give $400 million to the transitional government to support the peace process, but so far none of the pledged money has arrived. Mr. Grignon says that, once the money starts coming, Burundians will begin to have more faith in the peace plan and its economic benefits.