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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 17:12 GMT
Burundi peace deal hailed
South African peacekeepers with refugees
South Africans are trying to bring peace to Burundi
Burundi's President Pierre Buyoya has praised a ceasefire agreement signed between his government and the country's main rebel group.

Speaking on his return to the capital, Bujumbura, he said a truce would come into effect within three days, and said the signing was a big step to peace.

The agreement will take effect on 30 December, with provisions for the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) rebels to join the government and be part of a new national army.

The signing is a victory for all of us - it did not come easily

Negotiator Jacob Zuma

More than 300,000 people have been killed in nine years of civil war.

A power-sharing agreement brokered by Nelson Mandela a year ago has failed to end the fighting.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is chairing the peace talks in Arusha in Tanzania, said that sanctions would be brought to bear on the other main rebel group which pulled out of the talks last month.

"We are on the verge of some pretty robust sanctions that will stop them from fighting," he said, referring to the National Liberation Forces (FNL).

The BBC's reporter at the talks, Premmy Kibanga, says it is too early to start celebrating, as there are many obstacles along the way, not least getting the FNL to sign up to the deal.

However, one of the rebels' main concerns does seem to have addressed: That sharing political power between the two main ethnic groups, Hutus and Tutsis, would be meaningless while the army was still dominated by Tutsis.

The old army is to be dismantled and a new army will be created, made up of 50% government forces and 50% Hutu rebels.

Hard victory

Burundi's President Pierre Buyoya told the French news agency AFP that the FDD leader, Pierre Nkurunziza had signed the ceasefire document in the early hours of Tuesday.

Mr Museveni and head mediator and South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma were also present at the ceremony.

"The signing is a victory for all of us. It did not come easily," Mr Zuma said.

"The principle of give and take was evident and we were able to produce an African solution."

More talks

Although the agreement does not take effect until the end of the month, the two sides say they will stop fighting 72 hours after it was signed, meaning Thursday.

President Pierre Buyoya
Buyoya will step down in five months

FDD secretary general Radjabu Hussein had complained that the document originally presented for signing late on Monday stated that points slated for discussion during December had already been dealt with in the 2000 Arusha agreement.

The FDD has already rejected that agreement.

It is not clear how the last-minute difficulty was overcome.

Tutsi President Pierre Buyoya is due to be replaced by Hutu Vice President Domitien Ndayizeye on 1 May 2003.

Negotiators are now expected to thrash out how the FDD can be brought into the transitional government.

On Monday, the United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP) warned that more than one million Burundians were threatened by worsening food shortages.

The BBC's Jim Fish
"Observers warn that difficult issues still have to be agreed"
The BBC's Prime Ndikumagenge on Focus on Africa
"Much will depend on the willingness of both sides to live up to their promises"
Lakela Kaunda, talks spokeswoman on Focus on Africa
"The door is not shut on the FNL"

Key stories

See also:

13 Nov 02 | Africa
04 Nov 02 | Africa
21 Oct 02 | Africa
04 Oct 02 | Africa
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