Burundi: Analysts warn of serious political deterioration

DAR ES SALAAM, 19 February (IRIN) - As the end of the first 18-month period of Burundi's transitional government draws near, the country continues to face a deteriorating humanitarian situation and a serious fragmentation of its political make-up.
"In the eight years that I have been going to Burundi, I have not seen it as fractured and factionalised," Jan van Eck, a conflict analyst at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, told IRIN on Monday. He said 100,000 people were being displaced internally every month and were "just moving from hill-top to hill-top".

Similarly, an analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned of a "terrible situation" on the ground, as abject poverty, combined with regular ambushes and looting by rebels needing to replenish supplies, makes life increasingly unbearable.

The analysts said that the transfer of power on 1 May from a Tutsi to a Hutu president was the main catalyst for the increased political and military manoeuvring. All sides, they said, were re-evaluating their positions in the context of the Arusha Agreement and the ceasefires signed since then.

Although the government has signed, and begun to implement, a ceasefire with the smaller factions of the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD-FDD) and the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL), led by Jean-Bosco Ndayigengurukiye and Alain Mugabarabona, respectively, the ceasefire with Pierre Nkurunziza's CNDD-Force pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD-FDD) is yet to take hold, and Agathon Rwasa's FNL remains entirely outside the process.

The ICG analyst, who asked not to be named, said the warring groups were trying to prove their strength on the ground, so that when the period of transition arrived and army reforms were possibly carried out, this strength would be reflected in the new national army.

As a result, van Eck said, Burundi was more intense now than before the December 2002 ceasefire, signed between Nkurunziza's CNDD-FDD and the government in Bujumbura. "The situation in Burundi is very fragile, and it was highly irresponsible not to have implemented the ceasefire on the ground as soon as possible. We risk calling into question this whole process," van Eck said.

The delay stems from the ceasefire document being signed without any support process from the international community, and the inability of either the UN or the African Union (AU) to step forward and send in peacekeeping troops, the ICG analyst said.

Both analysts also said the UN would not go in without a stable ceasefire, that there was no timescale for the deployment of troops; that countries were waiting to find out the advantages of deploying troops; that Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal were prepared to send in troops under the UN, but reluctant to do so under the AU.

The recent return of Mugabarabona's FNL is also being seen a precursor for intensified fighting as observers warn that Rwasa is likely to want to prove that he, rather than Mugabarabona, is the man in charge of the FNL.

Van Eck said the return of the formerly excluded rebel movements was also threatening the stability of the present transitional government as further splits were emerging within the Hutu factions.

"Within the G7 [the majority Hutu parties in the transitional government], the other six Hutu groups have criticised Frodebu [Front pour la democratie au Burundi] for marginalising them from the process, and now, if the government is going to make concessions to Nkurunziza, it will be these six Hutu factions that will lose out," he said.

ICG's analyst said there was mounting pressure against Frodebu's Domitien Ndayizeye taking over the presidency, as the Arusha framework prescribes.

The analysts pointed out that because of its collaboration with the government, many Hutus perceived Frodebu as having betrayed the cause for which the rebels were still fighting. The analysts also said that the rebels did want to see Frodebu take over the presidency in May, because this would give the party a high profile in carrying out reforms from which it could benefit in future elections.

Although the analysts said it was too early to predict whether or not the 1 May transition would be smooth, they observed that while ceasefire talks continued, negotiations between Nkurunziza's CNDD-FDD and the political players in Bujumbura would also continue as the group was likely to play an important role in resolving the transition stalemate.

Meanwhile, the ICG analyst said, Burundians were just desperate for peace. "They know it [the problem] is not just about Hutus and Tutsis. It is about politicians and the political elite fighting for power and privileges," the ICG analyst said.


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