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Burundi's Resumed Cease-Fire Negotiations Face Obstacles - 2002-11-26

The largest rebel group in Burundi said it is ready to begin a fresh round of cease-fire negotiations with the government. But the absence of another rebel group from the talks may jeopardize efforts to end Burundi's nine-year old civil war.

The latest round of cease-fire negotiations is to resume Wednesday. The talks are aimed at settling outstanding issues standing in the way of a comprehensive cease-fire agreement between the Burundian government and one of the country's two main rebel groups, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy, known by its French acronym, FDD.

The talks will be held in the Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam and follow the failure of the two sides to reach a deal by a November 7 deadline that had been set by regional leaders.

The government and the FDD rebels had earlier agreed to several major proposals in a draft cease-fire agreement on such issues as disarmament and the destruction of excess weapons. But they could not agree on the issue of withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Burundi and the withdrawal of Burundian troops from nearby eastern Congo.

Mediators say they are hopeful the two groups will be able to finalize a peace agreement before the start of a regional summit in Dar-es-Salaam on December first.

But even if mediators manage to break the deadlock over truce conditions, analysts say it is unlikely the civil war will end. Another main rebel group, the National Liberation Forces, pulled out of the cease-fire talks nearly a month ago and has so far refused to return to the negotiating table.

The civil war pits rebels from Burundi's ethnic Hutu majority against the Tutsi-led army. More than 200,000 people have been killed during the nine years of fighting.

A new transitional government was installed in Burundi last year. In an effort to end ethnic tensions, power was divided among the country's Hutus and Tutsis, but the two Hutu rebels groups have continued to fight government forces. Last week, government troops and FDD rebels exchanged mortar and artillery fire in and around the capital, Bujumbura, killing and wounding dozens of people.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands killed in the civil war, the United Nations said 390,000 people have been displaced, making Burundi the site of the largest concentration of internally displaced people in Africa.