BURUNDI-TANZANIA: Peace Effort Takes a Nosedive

from Inter Press Service
Published on 26 Aug 1997
By Moyiga Nduru
NAIROBI, Aug 26 (IPS) - The failure by Burundi's government to attend peace talks that were to have been held
on Monday in the north Tanzanian town of Arusha reflected a marked deterioration of relations between Burundi
and Tanzania in recent weeks.

The tension between the two followed allegations by Tanzania that Bujumbura was amassing troops along their common border to attack camps housing Burundian refugees inside Tanzania. Burundi, on the other hand, has accused the Tanzanian government of allowing Burundian rebels to shelter in the camps.

Luk Rukingama, Burundi's minister of external relations and co- operation, said Tuesday that the peace talks between
Burundi's belligerents would only begin when Tanzania disarmed rebels hiding among the more than 230,000 Burundian
refugees it hosts.

On Saturday, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete was widely quoted by international media as saying that ''Burundi
has placed a whole brigade in a combat position'' along the border and that Burundian troops were crossing into Tanzania to hunt down rebels. He warned that the Tanzanian army would retaliate should Burundi attack refugee camps in Tanzania.

In an angry commentary on Monday, Radio Tanzania described Burundi's alleged deployment of extra troops along the border as provocative. ''Tanzania is ready to fight. We shall fight because we have been provoked,'' warned the state-owned radio station, monitored here.

But Rukingama said Burundi had no plan to attack Tanzania. He said Burundi's decision Friday to postpone the Arusha talks for another two weeks was to give the facilitator, former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, the opportunity ''to create (a) conducive atmosphere for all-party talks.''

However, politicians in Burundi had last week cast doubt not only on Tanzania's impartiality but also on Nyerere's. Reacting to this, Nyerere told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Tuesday: ''Buyoya and his friends think that Tanzania and Nyerere are the problem. I say if we are the problem, come and let us discuss it.''

Nyerere said he would not quit as mediator. ''I will not pack my bag. I will continue to mediate ... because that is what I believe is the solution to Burundi's problem. Not war. I made this clear to the United Nations and to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) before I took up the challenge to mediate in that conflict two years ago,'' he said.

The crisis in the Central African nation was triggered by the assassination of Burundi's first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, in October 1993 during a failed coup by Tutsi soldiers against his government.

His murder led to ethnic unrest followed by an insurgency by members of the country's Hutu majority, who account for an
estimated 85 percent of Burundi's 5.6 million people, while Tutsis are about 14 percent.

The conflict has so far killed about 150,000 people and forced nearly a quarter of a million to seek refuge in Tanzania.

Relations between the two countries chilled early this month when a group of Tanzanian legislators alleged that four Tanzanians had been killed by the Burundi army in a raid inside Tanzania.

The claim was denied by Burundi, which, in return, accused Tanzania of harbouring armed rebels among refugees from its civil war, which pits Hutu insurgents against an army dominated by Tutsis. Tanzania has often denied such charges.

Rukingama, who had repeatedly accused Tanzania of doing nothing to prevent armed Hutu rebels from infiltrating Burundi from the refugee camps, also denied that Burundi's army planned to attack the refugees in Tanzania.

Of late Burundi has been concerned about statements made by Tanzania doubting the commitment of the regime of Burundian President Pierre Buyoya to the peace process.

Nor was it happy about a statement by Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa criticising the recent execution of six Burundians accused of taking part in an ethnic bloodbath that followed the assassination of Ndadaye.

Mkapa had commented while on a visit to Uganda that ''any further trials should await a new dispensation and the restoration of the legality and constitutional order in Burundi.''

Eralier this month, the ill-feeling had risen a notch when Tanzania put pressure on regional governments not to lift sanctions
imposed on Burundi on Jul. 31 last year in reaction to the military coup that toppled president Sylvestre Ntibantunganya on Jul 25, 1996.

Following Monday's aborted talks, Nyerere met in Arusha with UN/OAU Special Envoy Mohamed Sahnoun, OAU
Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, European Union envoy Aldo Ayelo, and South Africa's envoy to the Great Lakes
Region, Nlapo Welile, to plot the next move.

Bujumbura's refusal to send a delegation to Arusha has given Burundian rebel groups such as the National Council for the
Defence of Democracy (CNDD) a chance to mark a few political points.

CNDD representative here, Leonce Ndarubagiye, said Tuesday that his group was not suprised by the government's move. ''They are not interested in talks,'' he said. ''They think that they can win the war on the battlefield.'' (END/IPS/MN/KB/97)