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Great Lakes
Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK
Analysis: Burundi's elusive peace

By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online

Burundi has an ethnic Hutu president but the war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels shows no sign of abating.

Burundi refugees
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the fighting
Indeed, the National Liberation Front (FNL) rebels launched their fiercest ever assault on the capital, Bujumbura, in July, just two months after Domitien Ndayizeye was sworn in.

An estimated 300 people were killed and thousands fled their homes.

Laurent Ndayuhurume, editor of the BBC Great Lakes service, says that the rebels wanted to show Mr Ndayizeye that he could not control them, even if he was a fellow Hutu.

His warning that he would increase military spending unless the rebels went to the negotiating table sparked the latest round of fighting, Mr Ndayuhurume says.

The rebels are fighting for greater rights for the Hutu majority in a country which has always been dominated by Tutsis, who make up just 15% of the population.


Former South African President Nelson Mandela helped broker a three-year power-sharing agreement in 2001, under which Pierre Buyoya stood down as president in May.

But the rebels see Mr Ndayizeye as mere window dressing while the army is still Tutsi-dominated.

Boys in wrecked house
War began: 1993
200,000 killed
Hutus: 85%
Twa: 1%
Tutsis have dominated since independence

The FNL is the smaller, but the oldest of the two main rebel groups and has always remained outside the peace process.

Last December, the largest rebel group, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), led by Pierre Nkurunziza, signed a ceasefire with the government.

But they too have continued to clash with the army.

FDD leaders wanted to take their own bodyguards when they attended meetings of the body established to implement the ceasefire.

The government refused and the agreement started to unravel almost before the ink had dried.

Analysts say that the FNL may not have attacked Bujumbura if the ceasefire with the FDD had been in place.

'In the middle'

What is clear is that the task of securing a workable peace will not be easy.

A foreign diplomat in Burundi said that Mr Ndayizeye was "stuck in the middle" between the Tutsi army and the Hutu rebels.

The civil war began in October 1993, when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu.

President Domitien Ndayizeye
Ndayizeye is caught between the army and the rebels

Under the ceasefire with the FDD, the old army is to be dismantled and a new army created, made up of 50% government forces and 50% Hutu rebels but work on this restructuring has not yet started.

Some Tutsis are wary of giving up their military dominance to the majority because of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic make-up and divisions.

In order to reassure them, Tutsi vice-president Alphonse Marie Kadege has to approve any new security measures.

Army merger

South African troops are in Bujumbura, as part of an African Union peacekeeping force.

But their mandate only allows them to use their weapons in self-defence and they were unable to halt the rebel advance on the capital in July.

South African deputy President Jacob Zuma addressing South African peacekeepers
South Africa is playing a key role in the flagging peace process

South African Vice President Jacob Zuma has replaced Nelson Mandela as mediator of the Burundi talks.

And South Africa is well placed to offer advice on merging rival fighting forces into a single unified army, having done precisely that after black majority rule was introduced in 1994.

But Burundi is much poorer than South Africa.

It is estimated that between the two active rebel groups and the army, some 60,000 Burundians are currently armed.

With a population of six million, a 20,000-strong army would be more than enough in times of peace.

So if the war did end, 40,000 armed men would find themselves without a job.

Rwandan model?

In the meantime, civilians will continue to pay the price.

They know that even a trip to the market could prove fatal if shells - from either the rebels or the army - fall in the wrong place.

FDD rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza (l) and FDD fighters
Rebel leader Nkurunziza (l) wants military reform

The BBC's Laurent Ndayuhurume says that while fighting continues in Burundi, Rwanda and by extension much of central Africa, will remain unstable.

Burundi and Rwanda have such similar histories and ethnic make-ups that tensions in one country inevitably spill across the border.

And the conflicts in these countries have led to "Africa's first world war" in the Democratic Republic of Congo, dragging in the armies of Angola, Chad, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, as well as Rwandan and Burundi.

But equally, if Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi could find a way to share both political and military power, it could provide a model for Rwanda to follow.

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28 Apr 03  |  Africa
Burundi's leader to step down
28 Mar 03  |  Africa
Burundi rebels end peace talks
21 Feb 03  |  Africa
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22 Jan 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Burundi
25 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Burundi
25 Apr 03  |  Country profiles


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