By Patrick Nduwimana
BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Two Burundian rebel leaders returned home from years of exile under a ceasefire deal aimed at ending a 10-year civil war, witnesses said on Friday.
South African mediators hope the homecoming will be a step towards peace, but fighting between the army and other rebel groups has raged on despite a series of ceasefire agreements.
Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, leader of a minority wing of the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) rebels, flew into the capital Bujumbura along with Alain Mugabarabona, chief of a breakaway faction of the Forces for National Liberation (FNL) rebels, late on Thursday.
"We feel very glad to come home again after some years of exile," Ndayikengurukiye and Mugabarabona said in a joint declaration read out to reporters on arrival. They spent 10 and seven years in exile respectively in Africa and Europe.
"We have come to implement what we have signed on October 7, 2002 in Dar es Salaam, that is to respect the ceasefire agreement and give a chance to millions of Burundians to live in peace," they said after arriving on a flight from South Africa.
Both rebel leaders signed the October ceasefire with the government in Tanzania as part of efforts to end the civil war between ethnic Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-led army that has killed an estimated 300,000 people.
However, the main strand of the FNL rebel group, led by Agathon Rwasa, has declined to join ceasefire talks.
The two homecomers are widely seen as among the least significant military players in the conflict, with each commanding relatively small groups of fighters who have been less active than other rebels in the past year.
FEARS FOR PEACE PROCESS
Analysts said that while their return to Burundi would do little to change the military situation, in the longer term their presence might help broaden the appeal of a power-sharing government set up in November 2001 to try and end the war.
Pierre Nkurinziza, leader of the main FDD faction, is still in exile in Tanzania.
Burundians had hoped a separate ceasefire deal signed with his faction in December would speed up efforts to stop the war, but clashes between the army and rebels have continued.
Jan van Eck, an independent South African analyst, said that until African states make good on an offer to send ceasefire monitors to reinforce the December truce, then little progress will be made towards peace.
"We're running the risk that the whole process can unravel completely unless what was promised is done now," he told Reuters.
"In Burundi the spirit is very, very frustrated and angry that the hope of December is just being allowed to disappear."
South Africa has said troops from Ethiopia, Mozambique and South Africa are due to monitor the December ceasefire deal, but the bulk of the planned force has yet to deploy.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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