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Burundi's Second-Largest Rebel Group Rejects Peace Deal - 2003-11-17

A warring Burundi rebel group has ignored warnings from regional leaders to join the peace process.

A spokesman for the National Liberation Forces, Pasteur Habimana, said his Hutu rebels will not join Burundi's peace process unless they are allowed to negotiate with Tutsis.

The second largest Hutu rebel group did not sign onto Sunday's peace agreement between Burundi's government and the leading Hutu rebels, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy.

Mr. Habimana says, those who love Burundi should call the Tutsis to his group so that they can open up and confess the wrongs they have done against Hutus. He says during the country's 10-year civil war, Tutsis killed and abused many Hutus, while the government stood by and did nothing. He says if Tutsis ask Hutus for pardon, his group can forgive, and then they can negotiate in good faith.

Under the peace agreement, the the Forces for the Defense of Democracy faction becomes a political party and is expected to have representation in the country's government by the end of November.

The rebel Hutu fighters are to be integrated into Burundi's armed forces. There are also provisions to grant temporary immunity to both sides from prosecution.

But conspicuously absent from the peace negotiations was Mr. Habimana's group, which has been responsible for a number of attacks in the country's capital, Bujumbura, as recently as the beginning of the month.

Analysts say the peace accord will have little effect if the National Liberation Forces continue to wage war.

The government, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy faction, and several African leaders attending the talks gave Mr. Habimana's rebels three months to lay down their arms or face unspecified consequences.

While Burundi's government is led by a Hutu president, the army is dominated by Tutsis. More than 80 percent of Burundi's population are Hutus.

The civil war began in 1993 when the then-Hutu president was assassinated by the Tutsi-dominated army. The conflict has claimed at least 300,000 lives.