Burundi: Peace talks - "Ultimatum" from African mediators

South Africa's minister of defense, Charles Nqakula, the official mediator for the regional peace initiative, has taken a string stance, asking the Burundian government and the rebels to either conclude the peace accord by the end of the year or forego international mediation. Nqakula offered the suggestion after meeting Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza and the leader of the FNL rebels, Agathon Rwasa. "The mandate of the mediation mission shall not be renewed (for 2009), everything will be concluded before December 31; this includes the grouping of all FNL rebels in the designated areas such as to be able to begin the disarmament, demobilization and integration process" said Nqakula, who was accompanied by the other members of the negotiating mission the Ugandan minister of foreign affairs Sam Kutesa and his Tanzanian counterpart Bernard Membe. "It has been a very long process and we do not want to continue in an endless game in an issue which is not a game" said Nqakula, who added that the African diplomats involved in the Burundian process have other important African crises to manage. The FNL - whose extended name is Palipehutu-FNL, meaning "Party for the Liberation of the Hutu Peoples Only" - is the only armed group that has not signed the 2003 peace accords that ended a ten year long civil war which cost 300,000 lives. In 2006, the rebels and the government have signed a general agreement, re-launched last June, after a period marked by the resumption of fighting; however, the negotiations have stalled on account of the FNL's request to transform itself in a political party, conserving its own name. The government says that the terminology is contrary to the intent and spirit of the Constitution which forbids the creation of political forces on an ethnic basis. Currently, there are 2000 FNL rebels in the Rugazi camp, in the provinces of Bubanza, and another camp is being set up to receive a further 8,000 in the same province. [AB]