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The BBC's Mark Devenport in New York
"Mr Mandela said that by continuing with their campaign, the rebel leaders showed they had no political vision"
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Saturday, 30 September, 2000, 04:10 GMT 05:10 UK
Mandela plea to Burundi rebels
Burundian children
Hutu rebels are accused of targeting innocent civilians
The former South African President, Nelson Mandela, has urged the rebel groups still fighting in Burundi to call a ceasefire.

Mr Mandela, who has been mediating in the Burundian peace process, told the UN Security Council that the rebels were hurting innocent civilians, not concentrating on military targets.

There has been heavy fighting near the Burundian capital Bujumbura, with some reports saying at least 30 civilians were killed.

Government troops in Bujumbura
Critics of the army say its actions are brutal and indiscriminate

The latest clashes between government troops and Hutu rebels took place on Friday at Kamenge, on the northern outskirts of Bujumbura.

"Burundi stands at the threshold of a completely new chapter in its history. That history will judge very harshly those that deliberately chose to obstruct the road to peace and progress," Mr Mandela said.

The two main Hutu rebel groups refused to sign a peace accord a month ago. It was signed in Arusha, Tanzania, by seven other Hutu groups, 10 Tutsi leaders, the government and the army.

Civilian victims

Although the rebels recently killed a senior Burundian military commander, Mr Mandela said they were not really targeting the Burundian army, but were mainly killing innocent men, women and children.

The government's main military spokesman, Colonel Jean Minani, said that both rebels and government soldiers had been involved in the latest killings. But he insisted that the rebels had been the aggressors, attacking Kamenge late on Thursday night.

President Buyoya
Pierre Buyoya seized power in a bloodless coup in 1996

The army chose to fight back, surrounding and eliminating rebel positions in the area, he said.

The BBC correspondent in Bujumbura, Chris Simpson, says such incidents appear to be becoming increasingly routine in and around the city.

Burundi's President, Pierre Buyoya, told the BBC that the rebels were now showing their true colours, refusing all offers of dialogue and embarking on fresh killing sprees.

He said he was still ready to meet rebel leaders at a time and place of their choosing, but warned the violence could soon get a lot worse if the long-awaited talks did not happen.

Army criticised

At least 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since Burundi's civil war erupted in 1993.

Critics of the government say the army's current clean-up operations are brutal and indiscriminate, with soldiers making no distinction between enemy combatants and ordinary civilians.

Arusha peace accord
Power sharing government
Ethnic balance in security forces
Equal representation in civil service
Three year transition period
No mention of ceasefire
Accepted by 17 warring parties
Rejected by two main Hutu groups

But Mr Mandela said that contrary to rebel claims, the Burundian Government had closed down all the notorious camps into which tens of thousands of civilians had been herded.

As a mark of his confidence in the future of the peace process, Mr Mandela intends to move his offices to Bujumbura from Arusha.

The Security Council backed his appeal, calling for all sides to stop fighting and start implementing the Arusha agreement.

Burundi's civil war has pitted the mainly Tutsi-dominated army and government against the Hutu rebels who want a share in power.

Even though Hutus form about 85% of the population, the minority Tutsis have traditionally held sway in the political and military arenas.

The peace accord aims to create a new balance.

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See also:

27 Sep 00 | Africa
Burundi army commander killed
26 Sep 00 | Africa
Burundi refugee horror
20 Sep 00 | Africa
Burundi ceasefire blow
25 Aug 00 | Africa
Arusha: No magic formula
25 Aug 00 | Africa
Burundi's deadly deadlock
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