Burundi

Burundi: Government, rebels to revive stalled peace accord

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DAR ES SALAAM, 18 June 2007 (IRIN) - The Burundian government and the rebel Forces nationales de libération (FNL) have agreed to reactivate a ceasefire agreement signed nine months ago, Tanzania's Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe said.

The agreement came during a 17 June meeting between President Pierre Nkurunziza and Agathon Rwasa, leader of the FNL, in the Tanzanian commercial capital of Dar es Salaam. The meeting was called because the implementation of the 17 September 2006 ceasefire agreement had stalled.

The aim, Membe added, was to bring the ceasefire agreement back on track, with the most crucial element being a general amnesty that will begin with the release of alleged political prisoners.

After the meeting, Nkurunziza announced that FNL fighters in prison in Burundi would be released after the rebel movement submits a list of names. However, he did not specify when the prisoners would be released and whether or not the FNL had a deadline to present the list.

Membe told IRIN on 18 June that once the FNL submitted a list of its members being held in Burundian jails, these would be forwarded to Burundi's Justice Commission before being submitted to the government-FNL Joint Verification and Monitoring Mission for scrutiny.

"The process of releasing political prisoners is anything but easy; the prisoners have to be verified [to establish] if they are really political prisoners or criminal elements that have committed offences beyond involvement in politics," he said.

Membe said the release of the FNL political prisoners would be followed by demobilisation and integration of eligible FNL fighters into the national security forces. However, Membe could not say whether a timetable had been set for the implementation of the Nkurunziza-Rwasa agreement.

"We discussed many issues aimed at speeding up the ceasefire agreement," Nkurunziza told a news conference after the meeting.

The other issue that had derailed the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, and which prompted the meeting between the two, was that of security for FNL leaders when they returned to Burundi.

Membe said the FNL leadership did not feel secure returning to Burundi without any assurance. However, Rwasa said after his meeting with Nkurunziza he would return to Burundi at a date to be announced "soon".

Rwasa and Nkurunziza also exchanged mobile-phone numbers to speed up implementation of the ceasefire agreement.

Before the September 2006 agreement and the 17 June meeting between Rwasa and Nkurunziza, the FNL had been the only pro-Hutu rebel movement to remain out of government after several pro-Hutu rebel groups signed agreements with the country's transitional government that eventually led to democratic elections in 2005.

Nkurunziza, himself a former rebel leader, won the presidential elections, signalling an official end to the country's 13-year civil war in which at least 300,000 people died and hundreds of thousands others were displaced.

However, the FNL remained active - mostly in its stronghold in the province of Bujumbura Rural - frequently attacking government troops, looting and extorting the civilian population.

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