Burundi: tension and violence reign

Throughout June, the level of tension and violence between the Hutu-dominated parties, the CNDD-FDD, the principal former rebel group, and FRODEBU, the major opposition party, increased significantly.

Numerous individual cases of assassinations of FRODEBU supporters have been reported. The most shocking was the attack in the Kamenge neighbourhood, in the capital, Bujumbura on 18 June. Two FRODEBU candidates for the legislative elections, scheduled for 4 July, were tragically killed, along with an innocent bystander, when a grenade exploded. Seven others were injured in the explosion.

FRODEBU openly accused the CNDD-FDD of being behind the attacks and publicly appealed for a halt to attacks on its members. Although the CNDD-FDD has consistently denied such allegations, its members have been accused of intimidating FRODEBU members while they distribute election pamphlets in rural Burundi.

The tension between the two parties has been exacerbated since both political groups were forced into direct competition during the local government elections held on 3 June.

As expected the CNDD-FDD won a majority of the local authorities throughout the countryside. Despite reports of some irregularities, the international community has accepted the results. Ms Carolyn McAskie, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General to Burundi and head of the UN peacekeeping mission, called on all Burundian political parties to endorse the results.

However, the FRODEBU party leaders, including the current President of the Republic, have not formally accepted the results and have accused their opponents of using intimidation and terrorism to win votes.

FRODEBU won in its stronghold in urban Bujumbura. Interestingly enough, their candidates also scored victories in rural Bujumbura and neighbourhoods surrounding the capital, historically known for their support for the Front Nationale de Liberation (FNL), the last remaining rebel group not included in the transition government.

FNL leaders have been attempting to consolidate a peace agreement with government representatives in Dar-es-Salaam. This has made the CNDD-FDD suspicious as to the role of the FNL, also a staunch rival of theirs in the electoral process.

FRODEBU considers itself to be the party that consolidated the country's political transition since the Arusha peace accords in 2000. Consequently, their members have strong personal interests in reaping the fruits of their labours, namely political representation. They were successful in enticing many rebel groups like the CNDD-FDD to sign bilateral peace accords with the government. However, the results of the local government elections earlier this month have highlighted the party's tenuous position as political protagonist. They risk being replaced by those who had opted for armed struggle.

Due to persecution of FRODEBU supporters during the war, their political activity was practically limited to Bujumbura city. This allowed those who took up arms, like the CNDD-FDD, to gain the confidence of the local population by demonstrating loyalty as their defenders against the violence carried out by the government forces.

The CNDD-FDD owes its current success and majority support to its consistent armed presence throughout the country during the war. It remains to be seen if it can now demonstrate its capacity to meet the people's overwhelming desire for peace and non-violence.

"Now, in this crucial stage for Burundi, unlike during the years of war, any act of violence intended to destabilise the peace process will only serve to demonstrate the weakness of the CHDD-FDD and the contradictions between the desire of its members for personal gain and the deep longing for peace held by the vast majority of Burundians", said Fr Nicolás Dorronsoro, JRS Burundi Director.

A great deal of attention has been directed towards this tenuous relationship between FRODEBU and the CNDD-FDD as the country approaches the upcoming legislative elections. Nevertheless, many unresolved issues throughout the transition period have contributed to today's politically tense environment. The failure to achieve an agreement with the FNL has contributed to their continued attacks on civilians and on the FDN, the new national army. This has caused further fear in the minds of the civilian population.

In light of the outbreaks of violence in rural Bujumbura during the local government elections, the FNL demonstrated that it can still destabilise the elections.

Equally problematic has been the numerous blockades of national highways by the former members of government-sponsored local defence forces, the Guardians of Peace, who have insisted that their participation in the war be duly recognised. They have demanded the right to participate in the demobilisation programme established by the transitional government and the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in Burundi.

These issues, amongst others of importance like the establishment of a truth commission, must be addressed. Otherwise they could further fan the flames of the current competitive tension between FRODEBU and the CNDD-FDD.