Burundi

Former Hutu rebels prepare to rule Burundi

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By Patrick Nduwimana

BUJUMBURA, July 6 (Reuters) - A former rebel group from Burundi's Hutu ethnic majority on Wednesday prepared to take power after storming to victory in parliamentary elections crucial to peace in the war-scarred central African nation.

The success of the vote -- which passed off quietly despite some violence in the run-up -- should aid stability in the troubled Great Lakes area, which has been in particular turmoil since the 1994 genocide in Burundi's neighbour, Rwanda.

But with another Hutu rebel group still active, and involved in pre-election violence that killed 18, the nation's road to peace is by no means guaranteed, analysts said.

Burundi's Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) took 58 percent of votes from Monday's poll and is now on course to choose the next president, the Independent Election Commission said on Wednesday after all votes were counted.

That was double the tally of the coalition led by Hutu party FRODEBU of President Domitien Ndayizeye, second with 22 percent.

The poll was a precursor to selecting a president under a U.N.-backed 2000 peace plan aimed at ending a civil war triggered by the 1993 assassination of the country's first elected Hutu leader, Melchior Ndadaye.

"It's a huge achievement because of the doubts over Burundi's peace process," said Patrick Smith, editor of the UK-based newsletter Africa Confidential, told Reuters.

"But consolidating it is going to be difficult. It is one of those delicate periods a bit like Liberia or Sierra Leone where people who did heinous things in war now go into government."

"WILL OF THE PEOPLE"

Ndayizeye congratulated the FDD, which gave up arms in 2003, and invited them to form the next government.

"Burundi is moving forward in democracy," he told reporters. "I demand all parties accept the will of the people."

The national assembly and a senate to be elected in July by communal councils, will select the president by a two-thirds majority no later than Aug. 19. Monday's poll gave 59 seats to the FDD, versus 24 for FRODEBU.

The election commission, whose results must be ratified by Burundi's constitutional court, said the main party of the minority Tutsi group UPRONA garnered only 7 percent of votes, meaning it will have 10 parliamentary seats.

The rest went to minor parties on both sides of the ethnic split in the mountainous nation of 7 million people, which won independence from Belgium in 1962.

Analysts said the FDD did well on perceptions it was better placed to work out power-sharing arrangements with the minority but traditionally politically dominant Tutsis, and disappointment with the transitional government's performance.

Monday's vote, the latest in a series of democratic polls in Burundi this year, was held under the shadow of clashes between the army and Burundi's last remaining rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), that killed 18 last week.

However, voting and counting took place peacefully in the coffee-growing country as the U.N. deployed 2,700 troops alongside local police and soldiers.

Analysts said immediate problems for the imminent FDD government were how to manage relations with Tutsi-led Rwanda, how to handle returning refugees, and disarming the population.

"Burundians have shown that they are mature enough. The vote passed in peace. It has been an important step forward in the Burundi peace process. But the party which won is facing a lot of challenges," local analyst Zenon Manirakiza said.

Africa expert Smith warned that the FNL rebels were still "potential spoilers" to Burundi's peace process.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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