Arusha, January 17th, 2000 (FH)
- Heads of Burundian peace delegations on Sunday welcomed former South African president Nelson Mandela as new facilitator to the negotiations in Arusha, Tanzania, pledging their commitment to reaching an agreement.
"We express the fervent hope that, in the early months of 2000 we will be able to name you, along with your illustrious predecessor Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the fathers of rediscovered peace in Burundi," Burundi's Minister for the Peace Process Ambroise Niyonsaba told Mandela. "We will do everything to facilitate your task."
"We assure Your Excellency of our total commitment to work harder to achieve as soon as possible the Peace Agreement," said Gaetan Nikobamye of the Liberal Party (PL). He was speaking on behalf of seven mainly Hutu groups known as the "G7", which includes Burundi's biggest opposition party FRODEBU and CNDD rebels.
"The first meeting between you and us is tantamount to a real milestone in the Peace Forum," said Ambassador Terence Nsanze of the ABASA party, in a statement from seven mainly Tutsi opposition parties.
The Burundian negotiators were responding to a lengthy address by Mandela, in which he laid out priorities for the talks, put forward suggestions and berated them for their lack of urgency. The negotiations in Arusha have been in progress for some eighteen months, with negotiators dragging their heels and a recent escalation of violence on the ground.
Mandela's address came during his first visit to Arusha as Burundi peace facilitator. He succeeds the former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere who died of leukemia in October.
"His speech is an important step in our negotiations," former President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya told Hirondelle. "I have before me a man who seems to be Burundian and to read what is in our hearts."
All was not peace and harmony, however. Tutsi opposition parties urged Mandela to "revisit both the methodology and the substance" of the negotiations, saying that up to now they had been "far from a paragon of democracy".
They accused Nyerere, whose facilitation team is still working with Mandela, of favoritisim and of "arbitrary division of the Parties to the negotiations into two categories". In particular, they condemned a meeting of the government and bigger political parties (the "G6") in Dar es Salaam as a "divisive undertaking" and a "blatant and deliberate deviation from the Arusha Peace Negotiations."
"In our view you are the only centre stage of the Burundi peace Negotiations," Ambassador Nsanze told Mandela. "We therefore expect the members of the existent Facilitation Group to abstain from embarking on substantive decisions without prior consultations between you and all the parties to this peace process."
Both Tutsi opposition parties and the government mentioned specifically that all armed groups should be included in the peace process, a priority that has been set by Mandela. "We suggest to the facilitation that it identify these groups and their leaders and bring them into the peace process by an appropriate method, so that no one have a pretext to hold the Burundi people hostage," said Minister Niyonsaba.
But the G7 (mainly Hutu) group accused what it called the "military regime in Bujumbura" of "arbitrary arrests and detentions in inhumane conditions, disappearances and political assassinations, distribution of arms to a chosen part of the population and confinement of more than one million people in concentration camps".
Both the G7 and the Tutsi opposition parties accused the Tutsi-led regime of systematically harrassing the opposition, restricting the activities of political parties and censoring the press.