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Hundreds Of Thousands Of Burundians Remain Displaced - 2003-10-10

The United Nations refugee agency, U-N-H-C-R, says, despite Tuesday's signing of a peace accord in Burundi, there are still major obstacles to overcome before hundreds-of-thousands of displaced Burundians can return home from Tanzania.

A spokesperson for the U-N-H-C-R in Tanzania, Ivana Unluova, says most of the 310-thousand Burundi refugee under the agency's care there are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Burundi's latest peace deal.

On Tuesday, the government of President Domitien Ndayizeye reached a political and military agreement with the leader of the main rebel group, F-D-D, to end Burundi's bitter, 10-year civil war. The conflict has pitted ethnic Hutu rebels against the country's Tutsi minority-dominated army.

Tuesday's accord, signed in South Africa, followed a December cease-fire agreement, which fell apart soon after it went into effect.

Having had their hopes for peace dashed before, U-N-H-C-R's Ms. Unluova says few Burundian refugees in Tanzania believe the fighting is truly over.

"First of all, the people have to be really sure of the security situation on the other side of the border. This has been the main determining factor in the voluntary repatriation operations we have had running now for almost a year."

The international community has hailed the latest peace accord, saying it has a real chance of bringing lasting peace to the central African nation. For the first time, the agreement meets several key rebel demands, including giving far more weight to ethnic Hutus among the ranks of officers.

But skeptics say they believe much will depend on whether the agreement is actually implemented and whether it will eventually be accepted by Burundi's second-largest rebel group, the F-N-L. F-N-L, which has never participated in any peace process, has rejected the deal, saying it contains lies and insincere promises.

In addition to the more than 300-thousand Burundian refugees living in U-N-H-C-R camps in Tanzania, aid workers say there are another 300-thousand scattered across Tanzania. Nearly that many more Burundians are internally displaced.

In a recent series of reports, a Brussels-based research organization, International Crisis Group, warned that, even if Burundi becomes safe enough for all displaced people and refugees to go home, the country is not prepared to receive them.

The authors of the reports say the government, as well as the international community, have given little consideration to the fact that many refugees may not be able to recover their property when they return.

The authors say they believe the ensuing land crisis and disputes would threaten any transition to peace.