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Slow Progress Reported at Burundi Talks - 2004-07-20

Talks on the Burundi peace process have dragged through a third day in the South African capital, Pretoria. South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating the talks, says progress has been good, but he has also indicated that the timetable for elections could be altered. There are signs that the talks could go into a fourth day.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is hosting the talks and has spent several days in face-to-face meetings with the leaders of four major Burundian political parties. They are trying to agree on a new constitution, a power-sharing deal and a new timetable for elections.

The South African mediators have been tight-lipped about progress on the unscheduled third day of negotiations that were originally expected to end Monday. But one source indicates that Mr. Mbeki intends to keep the talks going until a deal is reached.

On Monday, Mr. Mbeki told the South African Broadcasting Corporation that progress has been good.

"The discussions are continuing, and they are going very well," he said. "There is actually agreement on the majority of the issues. There are one or two questions that remain."

The peace deal signed in Arusha, Tanzania four-years ago provided for a three-year transitional government. That government is supposed to hand over power to an elected one by the end of October. Burundi's legislative elections were originally planned for September, with a presidential poll scheduled in October.

Sources close to the talks indicate that it may be impossible to stick to that timetable. President Mbeki says the pressure to stay on schedule is intense, but he acknowledged that there may be some shifting of the timetable. But he emphasized that he hopes the main part of the transition will take place by November 1.

"It probably means that we should alter the election calendar as it was agreed in Arusha, because of the pressure of time. So again, we have raised the matter of the restructuring of that election calendar so that indeed you do have democratic elections between now and the beginning of November, to elect as I was saying the national assembly, the senate and the president," said President Mbeki. "All of the soundings that we have made, everybody agrees that we should move like this."

The Burundian leaders taking part in the talks include interim President Domitien Ndayezeye, and Pierre Nkurunziza, who heads the former rebel group turned political party known as the CNDD-FDD. There are also representatives of the main Tutsi and Hutu political parties, UPRONA and FRODEBU.

One group not participating is the rebel faction called the Forces for National Liberation, or FNL, which has refused to take part in the peace process. But this week the new U.N. envoy to Burundi has held separate talks with FNL leaders in Kenya.