Burundi

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Burundi

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The regional context must be favourable for the peace process in Burundi to be successful -- and the current situation was not conducive, Marc Nteturuye, Burundi's Permanent Representative to the United Nations told correspondents this morning at a Headquarters press conference.
Mr. Nteturuye was briefing correspondents on developments in his country in anticipation of the Security Council meeting on Burundi scheduled for 19 January. Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, who recently accepted the position of Facilitator for the Burundi peace negotiations underway in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, is expected to attend that meeting.

The Burundi rebels were supported by Rwandan militia, as well as by that country's former armed forces, Mr. Nteturuye said. Furthermore, some groups from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that the Lusaka agreement had identified as needing to be disarmed had started to fall back toward Burundi through the United Republic of Tanzania. "They want Burundi to be a new base for continuing their destabilization of the region. The international community, in particular the Security Council, must seriously take up the question of armed movements and deal with it. Some of these groups carry out genocide and they circulate freely in the region with weapons", he said.

The international community must also support Burundi with economic assistance, he continued. "Now, not later, because later it might be too late. The peace process is threatened by the deterioration of the purchasing power of the population. Without food, the message of peace cannot be heard. But the message of the extremists will be heard and the peace process will be endangered."

Political dialogue was the only path that could restore peace and security to Burundi, he said. There was no military solution to the problem. He expressed the hope that the Arusha talks being conducted by Mr. Mandela would be concluded quickly. However, a peace agreement was not an end in itself -- it had to be realistic in order to be implemented. "Peace will not come the day after the signing of an agreement. It will be the result of a process, a process which may be lengthy given the complexity of the problem in Burundi", he said.

All but one of the armed groups in Burundi had accepted Mr. Mandela as mediator and facilitator. He asked those in a position to do so to pressure those who were hesitating to support Mr. Mandela. It was important, however, that people realize that Mr. Mandela did not hold the solution in his hands. "It lies with Burundi to bury the hatchet", he said. The people of Burundi had to see what was at stake and to understand that it was they who must build peace.

In response to a correspondent's question, Mr. Nteturuye said he hoped that during this month's Security Council sessions -- the "Month of Africa" -- the international community would become sensitized and more aware of the situation existing in Burundi. He hoped that the Council would have a better understanding and would help Burundians define their own solution. "We also expect the international community to accompany the peace process along the way, to be on the side of the Government and help them to conduct the peace process to a safe harbor. The peace process needs political support, but it also needs economic assistance and support for reconstruction." He added that he hoped the Council would bring pressure to bear on the rebels and armed groups that did not wish to participate in the peace negotiations and get them to agree to attend the talks.

Mr. Nteturuye explained that there were 18 parties involved in the Arusha talks, each of which were represented in four working committees: reconstruction and economic issues; security; good governance and democracy; and, the nature of the conflict. Some of the working groups had made more progress than others. "We believe it is possible to conclude an agreement within the next six months", he said.

A reporter asked for a response to the perception that Burundi was a "powder keg", reminiscent of Rwanda just prior to the genocide. Mr. Nteturuye said that was a mistaken impression. While it was true that there was tension in the country as it entered the "critical final stages" of peace negotiations, the situation was not comparable to that of Rwanda. The major difference, he said, was that in Rwanda, prior to the genocide, the public authorities and the army had been involved in and had been preparing for the catastrophe. By contrast, in Burundi, "the public authorities are the ones who are the real protectors of the security of citizens and the ones who are trying to bring everyone into the peace process". The Government had demonstrated its commitment to bringing Burundi out of its state of crisis and violence.

Asked if he would meet with Laurent Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, when he came for the Security Council meeting on 24 January, Mr. Nteturuye replied that he didn't think so. However, he added that Burundi had maintained contact with Mr. Kabila as the President of a neighboring country. Furthermore, Burundi had participated "from beginning to end" in the talks in Lusaka. Burundi had presented its security concerns, which he hoped would be taken into account when implementing the ceasefire agreement.

On the issue of "regroupment" of people in the province of Rural Bujumbura, where the capital of the country was located, Mr. Nteturuye said it had been done in October to counter a serious security situation in the area. Civilians who were the victims of killings and other acts of terrorism by rebels had to be protected. Rebels had been hiding in civilian houses and using people as human shields. Furthermore, the capital had to be protected from attacks.

While it was not an ideal situation, it was preferable to the people having to live amidst the daily sound of gunfire. He stressed that "regroupment" was not an official policy per se, but rather had been brought about by circumstance. Nevertheless, the Government remained open to other proposals that adequately met the security and humanitarian concerns.

He also pointed out that there had been "regrouped" populations in the provinces of Burundi since 1993, when people had fled their homes in fear. Many of them, even after six years, were afraid to return and were still living in internal exile.

Since October, the security and humanitarian aspects of the situation had improved considerably in Rural Bujumbura, he said. Before that, there had been daily confrontations, insufficient medicine and problems with housing. Now, in general, there were no longer killings or armed fighting. "If this improvement continues, the Government will allow people to return soon to their homes", he continued. Although for the moment, the situation remained fragile and it was still considered premature to bring the people back.

He expressed his Government's gratitude to the humanitarian agencies for their "dedication and generosity" in providing assistance at the various regroupment sites. Today, students were going to school, workers had been able to return to their daily work in the capital, and cholera had been brought under control. Life had more or less resumed. Although some individuals and humanitarian agencies were still the subject of rebel propaganda, today the population was living much better, even though some do not want to formally recognize that reality. Anyone who wished to visit the regroupment sites -- journalists, human rights workers, diplomats -- could do so. In fact, diplomats had already begun to visit the camps.

Also related to the subject of humanitarian agencies, he said that after "the shock of the heinous murders of the staff members from UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP)" in October, the agencies had gradually resumed their work. Since then, a framework for cooperation and exchange of information on security had been established. Moreover, a protocol being signed between the Government and the agencies would further restore confidence.

The investigation into the murders had been concluded in December and a report had been submitted to the Secretary-General that month, he continued. It had been determined that the perpetrators were rebels who had fled back into the United Republic of Tanzania after the attack.