BURUNDI: IRIN Focus on the Arusha summit [19991127]

BURUNDI: IRIN Focus on the Arusha summit [19991127]

BURUNDI: IRIN Focus on the Arusha summit

[This IRIN report does not necessarily reflect the views of the UN]

NAIROBI, 26 November (IRIN) - When regional leaders meet in Arusha, Tanzania, next week to thrash out the future of the Burundi peace mediation, they may well be embarking on a last chance to salvage the peace process and stop a wider regional conflict.

In his latest report, Burundi analyst Jan van Eck of the South Africa-based Centre for Conflict Resolution, says the choice of a suitable mediator to succeed the late Julius Nyerere is crucial. "The decision...will determine whether Burundians will be able to continue to try and find a peaceful negotiated settlement or continue with their violent conflict."

In the void created by the delay in appointing a new mediator, Burundi has been wracked by increasing violence and extremism. Van Eck says the new mediation "will have to be such that the negotiations option will become a much more attractive option than war, resulting in parties virtually being 'seduced' into the mediation/negotiations option".

"Merely making marginal and cosmetic changes to the present mediation process will most definitely not achieve this," he warns.

The Arusha summit, slated for 1 December - bringing together representatives of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, DRC, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe under the chairmanship of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni - has a difficult task ahead in choosing a replacement for Nyerere acceptable to everyone. However there are signs that the different parties' views may be converging.

Burundi's Peace Process Minister Ambroise Niyonsaba told IRIN he was optimistic that a solution favourable to all sides would be reached in Arusha. He confirmed that South Africa had been approached, and said the "stature" of former president Nelson Mandela would be a fitting succession to Nyerere.

Burundi's Permanent Representative to the UN, Marc Nteturuye, took a harder line. "It is unthinkable that a mediator unacceptable to Burundi can be chosen," he told IRIN. The new mediator should "suit all the parties involved". Otherwise, the government would "block" the process, he said.

Van Eck says the region cannot disregard the opinion of the Burundi government. "If the government is to be part of the solution to Burundi's crisis - and without it there can be no solution - then the new mediation to be decided upon will have to be such that the government can stay in the process."

Representatives of Burundi's influential Convergence nationale pour la paix et la reconciliation (CNPR), which groups together 10 parties within the country including the main FRODEBU and UPRONA parties, have been travelling in the region ahead of the summit to explain their position on the mediation and their support for a team of three facilitators, headed by Mandela.

FRODEBU leader Augustin Nzojibwami, who is also president of the CNPR, told IRIN he believed they had the support of the sub-region, although he pointed out they had only visited Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, whereas the summit would group 10 countries. "But it is difficult to turn down Mandela," he said.

Nzojibwami believes the various sides will "harmonise" their positions when they meet in Arusha, but acknowledged that if the outcome of the summit is unacceptable to the Burundian people the process will have to "start again". The CNPR's vice-president Libere Bararunyeretse of the UPRONA party stressed that the Arusha process was not starting from scratch. He said Nyerere had succeeded in pushing the process forward, but some "readjustments" were necessary.

The CNPR appeared to rule out another frontrunner for the mediation, former Botswanan president Ketumile Masire. Nzojibwami pointed out he was not well-known in Burundi, and was currently involved in the eminent persons' panel probing the Rwanda genocide which could entail a "conflict of interests".

Many observers agree the new mediation will be drawn from a team of facilitators - a sort of "compromise" solution, and one also acceptable to both the authorities in Burundi and the main rebel group, Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Forces de defense pour la democratie (CNDD-FDD) of Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye. Sources close to the peace process told IRIN that Leonard Nyangoma, who leads the other CNDD faction, had also expressed agreement.

However CNDD-FDD spokesman Jerome Ndiho said there must not be a dominant person in the team - which, for the rebels, would appear to rule out Mandela. In addition, each mediator must be neutral "with no hidden agenda". Ndiho told IRIN his group had not expressed an opinion either way on mediation by South Africa. But CNDD-FDD was adamant that any mediating country should not have the same ethnic make-up as Burundi and that the process should be held outside Tanzania.

While acknowledging that the region will take the final decision, Ndiho expressed reservations over the way the new mediation was progressing. CNDD-FDD's acceptance of the region's decision would not necessarily depend on the choice itself, but on whether the group had been consulted. "So far, the region has not consulted us," he remarked. "It has not got off to a very good start. The people invited by Museveni to Arusha are the same as under Nyerere's mediation, nothing has changed."

The Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), believes the summit is an opportunity that should not be wasted. "It is a unique chance to change the methodology and the approach of the mediation," an ICG spokesperson told IRIN. There was now an opportunity for the talks to be all-inclusive, which meant bringing in armed rebel factions previously excluded from the process. The Burundi government has consistently called for including CNDD-FDD.

The "new mediation" is also an opportunity to make the region more accountable for resolving conflict, and to involve the international community, ICG said. Analysts say that previously, the international community "unquestioningly" allowed Nyerere to handle the Burundi peace process and appeared to disregard the Burundi government's reservations towards the former Tanzanian president.

The peace process is not just an issue for Burundi, but for the region at large. With peace in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) looking very shaky and increasing reports on the movement of rebel militias - Burundian FDD and Rwandan Interahamwe and ex-FAR - into Burundi and Tanzania, the stage is set for a wider regional showdown.

Minister Ambroise Niyonsaba denies that the current tense relations between his country and Tanzania are an obstacle to the peace process. "We are working to improve relations," he said, adding there had recently been "excellent" high-level visits between the two countries. "Choosing the mediator is the most important issue. If he has no problem working out of Arusha, then we are not opposed either," Niyonsaba said.

But Van Eck warns of the very real possibility of war between Burundi and Tanzania, if the issue of Burundian rebels operating out of Tanzania is not addressed.

"A potential flashpoint as serious as this one cannot just be allowed to continue to fester if we want to remove all situations that could negatively affect or even derail the peace process," he stresses. "The region, the continent and the rest of the international community are indeed faced with a crucial 'make-or-break' decision that will have a major impact on the long-term future both of Burundi and the Great Lakes region."


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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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