Burundi + 3 more

IRIN Update 866 for the Great Lakes

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UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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for Central and Eastern Africa
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BURUNDI: Mandela wants peace accord in four months

The Arusha peace talks continued on Tuesday with the mediator Nelson Mandela telling the parties that a peace agreement should be finalised within four months. Independent sources attending the talks told IRIN there was a consensus that this deadline was feasible. "There is a climate of agreement in sight. You can see people positioning themselves," the sources said. Burundi's Peace Process Minister Ambroise Niyonsaba told IRIN he believed an agreement could be reached "very soon". "The remaining issues are not contentious and the only problem is that the [main] rebels are not involved," he said. For his part, the rebel CNDD's Leonce Ndarubagiye said the sides had moved from "generalities to specifics". "The real issues are now on the table," he said. "A give and take process is now possible and that doesn't take long."

The EU envoy to the Great Lakes, Aldo Ajello, expressed the belief that the four month deadline was realistic as much work had already been done over the past 18 months. "Mandela's character, experience and moral authority have injected a new spirit into the process," he told IRIN.

Before leaving for Arusha on Monday, Burundian President Pierre Buyoya reiterated his commitment to the negotiations and stressed they should be completed within a "reasonable period". In a message to the opening session, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a peace agreement in Burundi would depend on the restoration of stability to the Great Lakes region, particularly in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). French President Jacques Chirac meanwhile urged the international community to resume economic aid to Burundi as a way of advancing the prospects for peace. AFP said that in a message read out by Cooperation Minister Charles Josselin, Chirac added that once a peace deal had been struck, France could help Burundi with the reinsertion of demobilised soldiers into civilian life and reinforcing a state of law. US President Bill Clinton was due to address the meeting on Tuesday by satellite link.

BURUNDI: Diplomats visit captured Rwandans

Diplomatic sources in Burundi on Tuesday confirmed to IRIN that they had visited several captured Rwandans, alleged to have been former allies of the rebel PALIPEHUTU-FNL group. The Burundian army recently claimed over 200 Rwandan Interahamwe and ex-FAR were killed during infighting with the FNL. According to the BBC Kirundi service, eight Rwandans are currently undergoing treatment in the Kamenge military hospital in Bujumbura and were visited by foreign diplomats. "It is true, we visited the hospital and we believe the four patients we talked to were Rwandans," a diplomatic source said. He described the four as "very young people". "They said they had problems with Burundi's Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) because the Burundians wanted to disarm them and they refused," the diplomat explained. "This is when fighting broke out." He added that the Rwandans told the diplomats they wanted to return to Rwanda "because they realised that the Burundi peace process going on in Arusha would not offer them anything once peace is achieved". He said a further six Rwandans were out of hospital and being held at the military camp.

A spokesman for PALIPEHUTU-FNL, Augustin Ntawogeza, denied that his group had battled the Interahamwe and ex-FAR. Neither had the FNL previously fought alongside the Rwandans in Burundi, he told IRIN. He claimed the captured Rwandans were "prisoners of war sent by Rwanda to fight for Buyoya", and were being used by the Burundi government to "pretend they were the allies of the FNL".

The BBC Kirundi report cited a French embassy official in Bujumbura as saying it was clear that the region was faced with the problem of "Rwandan army remnants". One of the captured Rwandans, interviewed by the radio, said he was not an Interahamwe but an ex-FAR soldier.

BURUNDI: UNICEF chief urges camp closures

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy has urged the Burundi government to move forward with the dismantlement of regroupment camps, a UNICEF official in Bujumbura told IRIN on Monday. During her two-day visit to Burundi, Bellamy met President Pierre Buyoya and other senior government officials and visited the Ruziba regroupment camp near the capital Bujumbura, the official said. "She congratulated the government on its decision to dismantle the camps. But we are hoping the pace of dismantlement will move faster," the official said.

The government assured Bellamy that it intended to continue dismantling the sites based on a "phase-out plan", the official said. Only one of some 53 sites in Bujumbura Rural has so far been closed. The humanitarian situation in the sites remained difficult, the UNICEF official said. "Children in the camps are exposed to malaria, cholera is under control now but could easily erupt again, children are not going to school, some are suffering from psychological trauma, and we can see cases of malnutrition," she said.

BURUNDI: "Technical committee" planning dismantlement

Meanwhile, the government has recently invited the head of the OCHA unit in Burundi to participate in a technical committee that is planning the dismantling of the first batch of 11 regroupment camps, according to an OCHA report. "This forum has agreed that inter-agency assessments will take place before the sites are dismantled and there will be a common agreement on the dates to dismantle camps," it said. The main challenge ahead for the humanitarian community would be to ensure the availability of resources and the capacity to provide the returnees with the required assistance, the report added.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Amnesty offered to rebels

Justice Minister Mweze Kongolo on Monday announced a decree offering a general amnesty for all Congolese who were "undermining the internal or external security of the state". Speaking on DRC state television, Kongolo said President Laurent-Desire Kabila had signed the decree on Saturday, considering the need "to usher in a new era of peace". "Rebels requesting amnesty must immediately put an end to any act undermining state security and register with the authorities at their point of entry into government-controlled territory," the decree stated. The amnesty covered acts committed before and until the decree entered into force on Saturday, though "without prejudice to civil reparations, restoration and other costs".

DRC: Rebels reject offer

The three DRC rebel groups on Tuesday dismissed Kabila's offer, saying "he should seek amnesty himself". "It is nonsense," RCD-Goma's security chief Bizima Karaha told IRIN. "It is totally in breach of the Lusaka agreement." MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba described the offer as a "joke". "He cannot do it alone," he told IRIN. "Who is he to be giving an amnesty?" RCD-ML leader, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, for his part, accused Kabila of "trying to disorientate us from what is going on in the implementation of the peace agreement". He said the amnesty decree "makes no sense". "He [Kabila] is trying to reopen negotiations and he wants his government to be the transitional government, it is all manipulation," Wamba said, adding that the idea of amnesty was good but had to come after a national dialogue. He accused Kabila of trying to pre-empt the process.

DRC: New government body to deal with UN observer mission

The government in Kinshasa has also decreed the establishment of a general commissariat to deal with all issues related to the UN Observer Mission to the DRC (MONUC). It appointed Professor Leonard Humphrey Ntwaremba as General Commissioner in charge of UN affairs in the country. The new commissariat was charged with executing directives related to the presence of MONUC, as well as dealing with and reporting to the government on "the assessments, evaluations and conceptions" of the UN mission. Three sub-commissioners for MONUC affairs would deal with the issues of UN troops deployed in the DRC, the application of UN decisions, and identification issues concerning all UN personnel in the DRC. Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Yerodia was given the responsibility of putting the new commissariat in place, Congolese television reported.

DRC: Rebels off to Lusaka

The rebel groups meanwhile confirmed they would travel to Lusaka to attend a meeting on Tuesday night of the ministerial level political committee, to which the Joint Military Commission (JMC) reports. Ernest Wamba dia Wamba of the RCD-ML called for the quick deployment of UN personnel in DRC, while Bizima Karaha of the RCD-Goma said people were tired of war. "The military groups are facing financial problems and it is likely that with the [UN] deployment, there could just be a ceasefire," he told IRIN.

UGANDA: Masire, Museveni discuss DRC

Former Botswanan president, Ketumile Masire who is facilitating the inter-Congolese national dialogue, held talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last week in which they discussed regional issues and the implementation of the Lusaka peace accord. A statement from Uganda's State House on Saturday said that as facilitator of the inter-Congolese talks, Masire was expected to consult all political organisations in the DRC as well as the different rebel groups involved in the conflict. The semi-official 'New Vision' newspaper quoted sources as saying Masire was scheduled to meet Congolese rebel leaders in Kampala and Kigali.

RWANDA: Prosecutor urges "genuine justice" in Barayagwiza case

Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Carla Del Ponte on Tuesday began her case for the reversal of an Appeals Court decision in November that genocide suspect Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza should be released on procedural grounds. Del Ponte argued that "genuine justice" demanded that the decision be overturned, and that the Appeals Court had paid "undue deference" to the rights of Barayagwiza, accused of playing a leading role in the 1994 genocide, news organisations reported. "If Barayagwiza can't be tried, that will amount to a violation of the rights of the victims," Associated Press (AP) quoted Del Ponte as telling the five-judge appeals panel, sitting in Arusha, Tanzania.

RWANDA: Relocation of over 8,000 families

The government is relocating about 8,350 families from the Gishwati natural forest in northwest Rwanda to other areas of Gisenyi prefecture, according to the latest UNDP Rwanda weekly update. It said the families, who had fled Rwanda in 1959, returned to the country after the 1994 genocide and settled in designated areas bordering the forest. Over the past four years, the returnees have cultivated larger areas and raised cattle in the forest, sparking government concern about environmental destruction in the area, the report said. "Two temporary sites have so far been set up in two communes of Gisenyi as more people continue to be removed from the forest," it stated. A recent UN/NGO mission found that the relocated families needed food assistance, plastic sheeting and health care, the report added.

Nairobi, 22 February 2000, 14:50 gmt

[ENDS]

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