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BURUNDI PEACE TALKS RESUME IN ARUSHA ON 15 JUNE
After several months of stalemate, the Burundi peace process resumes in Arusha, northern Tanzania, on Monday 15 June against the backdrop of a new relationship between the usually adversarial government and parliament.
The "external" peace process, mediated by former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, is now running parallel to an "internal" peace dialogue launched by the government of President Pierre Buyoya. Talks between the government and parliament - hailed by both sides as a "new partnership" - resulted in the signing of a transitional constitution on 6 June 1998.
Independent analysts and diplomats believe the breakthrough over the constitution offers Burundi the glimmer of a peaceful resolution to the conflict, triggered by the October 1993 assassination of elected Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye.
Jan van Eck of the South Africa-based Centre for Conflict Resolution and an expert on Burundi says a "minimum amount of trust" now exists and that the new partnership has a "fair to good" chance of succeeding, with both sides keen to strengthen and consolidate the internal peace process. Van Eck added he believed a "strategic decision to change things" had been taken by the government and national assembly.
But the road to lasting peace is still strewn with obstacles. The institutional changes have provoked unease among the main political parties, and hostility from the principal rebel organisation Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD). Reports described the parliamentary debate on 4 June as stormy, but the changes were eventually approved. CNDD has accused the national assembly of "betraying" the people's sovereignty and described the transitional constitution as an "act of high treason". It warned it would continue fighting "until constitutional and institutional legality are restored".
The transitional constitution, promulgated just before parliament's mandate expires on 29 June, has been described as a fusion of the 1992 constitution and the decree-law adopted by Buyoya after the July 1996 overthrow of President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya and the mainly-Hutu Front pour la democratie au Burundi (FRODEBU). It provides for an expanded parliament - increasing membership from 81 to 121 members - and for scrapping the premiership in favour of two vice-presidents. The overall size of the government will also be reduced.
Burundians are ambivalent about the success of the peace process. One observer said a question mark hangs over the transitional constitution as "Buyoya does not represent all Tutsis and [Leonce] Ngendakumana [national assembly speaker] does not represent all Hutus", so the new partnership is "limited". Both the main FRODEBU and UPRONA (Union pour le progres national) parties are divided. UPRONA leader Charles Mukasi has refused to go to Arusha, although the party will be represented by pro-Buyoya officials. FRODEBU's exiled president, Jean Minani, meanwhile has shunned the internal peace process and although reports say he wields little influence these days, the mediator still recognises him as the party's representative.
The Arusha process, aimed at bringing the opposing sides to the negotiating table, got off to a bad start when the first meeting was boycotted by Buyoya and the Tutsi-dominated UPRONA party in August last year on the grounds there had been insufficient time to prepare and that Nyerere was biased in favour of the Hutu parties.
Alongside the Arusha process, regional leaders also held a series of meetings to discuss whether or not to lift the economic embargo they imposed on Burundi after the military takeover. To date, six regional summits have been held and although each session voted to maintain sanctions, the countries (Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda) are becoming increasingly divided on the effectiveness of the embargo.
The last summit held in Kampala on 21 February 1998 stated "no significant progress" had been achieved in negotiating a solution to the conflict. Since then, the respected think-tank, International Crisis Group, in a report released in April, noted the "negative aspects of the economic blockade have come to outweigh any positive effects it may have had". Regional analysts say that since the Kampala meeting, Bujumbura has met many of the conditions laid down by regional leaders for lifting the sanctions, including the release from house arrest of prominent opposition detainees.
Nyerere says the political changes within Burundi will not affect the upcoming Arusha meeting. He has already held consultations with the major political players in Burundi, all of whom are expected to attend the talks. They include Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, ex-president Jean-Baptiste Bagaza who leads the hardline Tutsi Parti pour le redressement national (PARENA), National Assembly Speaker Leonce Ngendakumana and Buyoya himself. Internal wrangling within CNDD means their representation is unclear, although Leonard Nyangoma - recently suspended as CNDD leader - still maintains he is the party president and says he will attend the Arusha meeting.
Analysts say CNDD is still a major player in any peace settlement and stress that CNDD and other groups outside the country will at least be represented at Arusha. Van Eck noted that if the sides demonstrate a commitment to peace in Arusha, there is a chance the region will lift the sanctions.
Nairobi, 10 June 1998
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Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1998 15:59:26 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: BURUNDI: IRIN BACKGROUND BRIEF ON ARUSHA TALKS 98.6.10 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.980610154840.32257Aemail@example.com
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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