Mandela to meet Burundi warring factions on Sunday

Arusha, January 13th, 2000 (FH)

  • Former South African President Nelson Mandela will pay his first visit to Arusha, Tanzania, on Sunday as mediator in peace talks for Burundi, the independent news agency Hirondelle reports. "This is going to be Mandela's first familiarization trip," said Hashim Mbita, spokesman for the facilitation team.
    Mandela will meet facilitators from the Nyerere Foundation and heads of the eighteen Burundi delegations taking part in the Arusha talks. Brigadier-General Mbita, spokesman for the Nyerere Foundation which has been organizing the talks, said Mandela would also meet with special envoys and representatives of donor countries. These include the European Union, the United States, Britain and Japan.

Mandela is expected to arrive in Arusha on Sunday morning, and to wrap up the discussions before the end of the day. He then goes on to New York, where he is due to attend a special session of the United Nations Security Council on the Great Lakes region.

East and southern African leaders meeting in Arusha on December 1st chose Mandela to lead the troubled Burundi peace talks, following the death of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere in October. Under Nyerere, the negotiations had been going on for more than a year.

Mandela has said he wants to keep the existing facilitation team and keep Arusha as the venue for the talks. He is, however, urging that they should be concluded quickly. "The negotiators should work even harder to bring the ongoing peace negotiations to a successful conclusion at a very early date in the New Year," Mandela said in a statement in December.

However, the talks are in serious need of new momentum, and the situation on the ground in Burundi has worsened in recent months. Clashes between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi army have increased, especially in the east and around the capital Bujumbura, with a rising number of civilian victims and displaced people.

Human rights group Amnesty International accused the army of massacring 43 civilians just south of Bujumbura on New Year's Eve, although the government claimed the victims were rebels. The number of refugees fleeing to Tanzania is also on the rise. UN officials say at least 30,000 refugees from Burundi have crossed into Tanzania in the last month.

Tutsi President Pierre Buyoya this week announced a major cabinet reshuffle, including replacement of his defence and finance ministers, amid mounting internal criticism of his economic policies. But analysts say he cannot go back on recent price hikes. Nineteen trade unions are also reported to be threatening strike action.

Human rights groups say at least 200,000 people have been killed in Burundi's civil war since the country's first democratically elected president Melchior Ndadaye (Hutu) was killed by members of the Tutsi army in October 1993.

JC/FH (BU%0113e)

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