Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 23:33:44 -0500 (CDT)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: POLITICS-BURUNDI: Peace Seems Further and Further Away
/** ips.english: 507.0 **/
Peace Seems Further and Further Away
An Analysis By Chris Simpson, IPS, 27 September 1999
KIGALI, Sep 27 (IPS) - Virtually every day, there is news of a fresh attack, raid or shoot-out in Burundi, the escalating violence creating dozens of civilian casualties.
As the war between a Tutsi-dominated government army and Hutu rebels rumbles on, a hugely convoluted peace process is meant to be winding its way towards a conclusion. But the mediator-in-chief, former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, will take no further part in the proceedings, falling victim to leukaemia.
The Nyerere Foundation will continue his work, but the odds on a peace agreement by the end of the year are again lengthening.
Burundian President Pierre Buyoya says the problems in his country are greatly exaggerated. Speaking on his departure from Kigali where he met with his Rwandan counterpart, Pasteur Bizimungu, Buyoya told reporters: "there is a misperception created by the media".
He talked of combatting "acts of terrorism by armed groups", but said there was no danger of either Burundi, or its capital, Bujumbura, being destabilised.
While both Rwandan and Burundian governments talked about "bilateral cooperation" as the theme of the weekend meeting, both denied Rwanda was extending any military assistance to Burundi.
Buyoya strongly denied reports in Kigali that 500 Rwandan troops are already in Burundi, conducting joint operations with the Burundian military.
Rwanda's Minister in the President's Office, Patrick Mazimhaka, said he accepted Buyoya's pledge that security problems in Burundi were being brought under control, and played down Rwanda's concern about the violence.
Mazimhaka acknowledged that Rwandan Interahamwe Hutu militias might now be active inside Burundi, linking up with insurgents from the Burundian Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) and the Party for the Liberation of Hutu People (Palipehutu), but pointed out: "there is nothing new in the cooperation between these groups".
Mazimhaka added that the Lusaka agreement, which is aimed at securing a peace settlement in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), provides for the neutralisation of "negative forces", like the Interahamwe and FDD, and that Rwanda would push for this to be accomplished.
Much of the recent violence in Burundi has been concentrated in the western region of Bujumbura Rurale, with relief officials warning of up to 100,000 people being displaced. But security has worsened in the capital itself, with a series of incidents over the past few weeks, some publicised by the authorities, others not.
At least 20 people were reportedly killed in attacks on the Musaga and Gihosha districts of Bujumbura on the night of Aug. 28- 29. President Buyoya sent his condolences to the bereaved families and warned: "I think that we will henceforth speak less and act more, in order to give the armed gangs the treatment they deserve".
On Sep. 3, Burundi radio reported the deaths of 15 people in an ambush on the Bujumbura-Rumonge road in the south-west. Further clashes were reported in and around Bujumbura during the weekend of Sep. 4-5.
A military spokesman announced on Sep. 14 that 60 rebels and six soldiers had been killed in fighting between the army and rebels in Bujumbura rural.
The government confirmed on Sep. 21 that five civilians and five rebels had been killed in an attack on Bujumbura on Sep. 20, with 12 civilians killed the same day at Kayogoro in the southern province of Makamba. Another eight civilians were reportedly killed at Munyika in the southern province of Rutana on Sep. 24.
In Burujumbura, the authorities have extended a curfew by two hours, with the population obliged to be off the streets between 10 pm and five am. The government has called on the civilian population to be more vigilant, stressing the need for civilian self-defence units, but has also emphasised that the state security forces have control of the situation.
The recent violence is nothing new. An estimated 150,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in a six-year-old civil war. The conflict has been low-intensity, but relentlessly vicious, with rebel raids and attacks often followed by brutal reprisals from the army.
Human rights organisations, like Amnesty International, have frequently deplored the violence, but their reports have had little impact.
Buyoya and his colleagues say the upsurge in rebel activity is a mark of desperation. According to government spokesman Apollinaire Gahunga, the FDD and Palipehutu are "trying to do something to show they are not finished", and talk scathingly of "suicidal military operations".
But government counter-insurgency operations seem no more likely to succeed now than they have done in the past.
There is still considerable confusion about the rebels, their leadership, composition and programme. The FDD is meant to be the armed wing of the National Council for Democracy (CNDD), but split with CNDD leader Leonard Nyangoma in June 1998, after Nyangoma backed the Arusha peace process.
The new, anti-Nyangoma CNDD-FDD has requested a place at the negotiating table, but has been kept out, with Nyerere questioning its legitimacy.
Like the CNDD and CNDD-FDD, Palipehutu says it is fighting for the whole Hutu population through its armed wing, the National Forces for Liberation (FNL), and says its forces have been far more effective than rival insurgents.
Both rebel groups question the legitimacy of the Hutu-dominated Front for the Defence of Democracy (Frodebu), which has enjoyed a difficult partnership with Buyoya.
The rebels point to the assassination of Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993 as a typical act of betrayal on the part of the Tutsi elite and have warned there can be no compromise with Buyoya.
Burundi still suspects Tanzania of both sheltering Hutu rebels in refugee camps and doing nothing to prevent their infiltration across the border.
Relations between Dar-es-Salaam and Bujumbura have frequently been strained, with Nyerere's neutrality often questioned by the Burundian government.
A senior Burundian official observed recently that there was a "paradox" in the Tanzanian mediation effort, noting that "Tanzania is the host country of the talks and at the same time the host of our assailants".
The FDD is known to have a strong presence in South Kivu in the DRC. Burundi has repeatedly denied having any kind of military presence in the DRC, but has been identified as an important member of the coalition backing the Congolese rebels against President Laurent Kabila. (END/IPS/cs/pm/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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