"We can't sideline anybody who can create instability in the country," he told the South African Broadcasting Corporation in an interview over the weekend. "We cannot ignore them."
Analysts believe his comments may give new impetus to the stalled process. A sticking point to the progress of the peace talks under the mediation of the late Julius Nyerere had been the exclusion of armed rebel factions, including the main CNDD-FDD rebel group.
Regional leaders, analysts and most sides to the conflict agree the mediation role needed someone of Mandela's stature.
"Every Burundian knows Mandela is a strong political man in Africa and international affairs," former Burundian president and opposition FRODEBU member Sylvestre Ntibantunganya told IRIN. He believes Mandela epitomises the "voice of reason". "We need someone who is bold and who will help us accept ourselves and the real problems," he added.
Leonce Ndarubagiye, spokesman for the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD) faction of Leonard Nyangoma, while claiming South Africa was not a neutral country, conceded that Mandela "is not a bad choice". "We are ready to support him," Ndarubagiye told IRIN.
Nyerere Foundation spokesman Hashim Mbita pointed out that the facilitation would be led by Mandela, and not by South Africa. "We are ready to give him all the support he needs," Mbita said.
Expectations are high. Eastern and Southern African leaders at the eighth Great Lakes regional summit on Burundi in Arusha, Tanzania, last week expressed a strong desire to have the process concluded. Calling for a speedy resolution to the conflict, they acknowledged that the outcome would depend on Burundians themselves.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who chairs the regional initiative, decried the "adverse effects" of prolonging the peace talks. Besides extending the suffering of Burundians, it had led to unnecessary spending and a "disproportionate claim" on the time of regional leaders, he told journalists.
Burundian President Pierre Buyoya, for his part, said his government was committed to finding a peaceful solution to the current problems. Since Mandela was acceptable to all Burundians, there were high hopes the talks would be concluded, he said.
Regional analysts are cautiously optimistic."We are only a little concerned about Mandela's health, but because he took the job he is definitely up to it," a senior researcher at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, Jakkie Potgieter, told IRIN. "The only threat would be if there are influences from outside."
"The Burundians must make not just a political change, but a psychological mind shift and learn to live with each other, work together and know they belong to one nation," he added.
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