UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
BURUNDI: IRIN Focus on security and the peace process
[This IRIN report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]
NAIROBI, 30 September (IRIN) - "The rot is setting in. Violence is being reactivated and extremists are playing on that." This is the gloomy prediction by some regional analysts of the current situation in Burundi.
For months now, the situation has been on a steady downward spiral as the Arusha peace process flounders and Hutu rebels target the capital Bujumbura and its environs, creating tension and panic. The sixth and latest round of talks in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha ended on 18 September, with factions appearing within the 18 negotiating sides and threatened walk-outs. Discussion of a ceasefire did not appear on the agenda and major issues such as the future of the rebellion and the transition have not been resolved.
Rebels from the PALIPEHUTU and CNDD-FDD groups, who have been warning for some time they would step up their attacks if they continued to be excluded from the Arusha process, carried out their threat and brought the civil war to Bujumbura.
President Pierre Buyoya, who was returned to power by a military coup in 1996, is beleaguered. His initial success in continuing the Arusha process, while kickstarting an internal peace process or "partenariat" - which saw some reconciliation with the national assembly and opposition FRODEBU party as well as the marginalisation of extremist groups - now appears to be fragmenting around him.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), a think tank which monitors the situation in the Great Lakes region, told IRIN Buyoya needs to complete the peace process very quickly in order to retain legitimacy. "Arusha is becoming his last political card," ICG said. "His is isolated within his own group, losing part of his Tutsi political base and criticised by the Hutus for not doing enough."
ICG says the Arusha process has been successful in demystifying some issues, but with a December deadline - set by Buyoya - for an accord approaching, the pressure on all sides is great and the "ethnic card" is again being played by extremists.
Buyoya is also under intense pressure from powerful army commanders and the Tutsi inhabitants of Bujumbura city and Bujumbura Rural who feel he is not doing enough to counter the rebel attacks in which hundreds of people have been killed. Sources close to the government told IRIN the recent decision by the authorities to regroup some 260,000 people of Bujumbura Rural into protection sites was taken under pressure from top military leaders who want the army to flush the rebels out of the province and reduce the threat to Bujumbura city.
Propaganda is flourishing. Accusations and counter-accusations of army massacres and allegations of foreign troops entering Burundi are picked up by international media organisations. Regional experts point out much of the propaganda is aimed at "isolating Tutsis" in the Great Lakes region, and this has led to a rapprochement between Rwanda and Burundi.
The international community has not resumed aid to Burundi, making this conditional on the signing of a peace deal in Arusha. Regional analysts have pointed out that this condition would lead to the quick signing of a meaningless, superficial accord which would not stop the violence.
In the meantime, economic observers predict dire consequences for the economy. The Economist Intelligence Unit noted that so far donors have not even promised balance-of-payments support, leading to a probable increase in unemployment. Lack of foreign exchange will continue to have a negative impact on industrial production, the EIU said. While the parastatals will probably survive, private operations - which are already struggling - are likely to go bankrupt. Furthermore, bad weather and insecurity look set to impede agricultural production, EIU added.
Burundi's prominent human rights group, Ligue ITEKA, has drawn attention to the parallels existing between Burundi today and pre-genocide Rwanda in 1994: "Negotiations in Arusha forced to proceed on the basis of ethno-centric passions, increasing violence as the talks reach a conclusion (in Bujumbura, as in Kigali before), divisions in the main political parties and the emergence of radical wings, the rapid deterioration of living conditions, the feeling of imminent chaos...and the powerlessness and/or inertia of national and international actors," it said in a recent appeal to international human rights groups.
"Despite three decades of cyclical violence, five years of civil war and a year of talks in Arusha, Burundi today is still under the explosive pressure of antagonistic, sectarian and fanatical forces," Ligue ITEKA said. Observers point out that if the Burundi situation is allowed to escalate out of control, the entire Great Lakes cauldron again risks boiling over. "If massive violence erupts again in Burundi, we are back to square one," ICG warned.
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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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