(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

President Buyoya transfers power to Ndayizeye

Domitien Ndayizeye was inaugurated president of Burundi on Wednesday, to lead the second half of a three-year transitional power sharing government designed to end 10 years of civil war.

"I swear to work for the good of all Burundians, to fight genocide and exclusion, and to ensure the respect of human rights," the BBC reported Ndayizeye as saying when he took the oath of office in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura.

He takes over from Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, who led the country during the first 18 months of the transitional government. Ndayizeye, a Hutu, will rule until presidential elections are held at the end of the transitional phase.

Buyoya handed over power under the terms of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, signed between Tutsi and Hutu political parties in 2000. The accord was the culmination of two-and-a-half years of negotiations, led by the late Tanzanian president, “Mwalimu” Julius Nyerere. The talks resulted in a transitional government that brings together 19 Burundian political parties for the three-year transition phase prior to democratic elections.

Under Buyoya, the government was charged with securing a ceasefire with non-signatories to the Arusha Accord; beginning reformation of the judiciary, administration and the security services; repatriating refugees and beginning reconstruction of the war-shattered country.

Buyoya seized power in two coups: in 1987 when he ousted President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, a Tutsi, recently released from house arrest; and in 1996 when he ousted Slyvestre Ntibantunganya, a Hutu.

South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, the chief facilitator in the peace process, said on Tuesday the transfer of power would be an important landmark and showed how much progress had been made toward peace.

"I think the Burundian people should celebrate that we have moved so far," he told reporters shortly after his arrival in Bujumbura.

"The last period is going to be more testing because there is nothing that we can leave untouched," he said, "but I think people should be convinced that the Burundians are ready for peace and now that the peacekeeping force is coming, we must say that the situation is changing."

In his speech at the presidential inauguration ceremony, Zuma described the event as a "significant step forward". He paid tribute to Buyoya for displaying "statesmanship, courage and patriotism by stepping down from office when the time came to do so".

Zuma also saluted former South African President Nelson Mandela, present at the ceremony, who took over as facilitator of the peace process when Nyerere died.

"I wish to single out for praise two outstanding statesmen who have driven this peace process at different periods, Mwalimu Nyerere and former President Nelson Mandela," Zuma said.

"Mwalimu must be smiling upon us today as he see yet another realisation of his dream of restroring peace, stability and democracy in this country," Zuma added.

Not all Burundians are convinced, however, as they say that they have seen many ceasefire ceremonies and inaugurations, but they still live in a state of war.

"I don't see this as an important event," Eugene Nindorera, a former minister for Human Rights in Buyoya's government, told IRIN. "There are lots of events like this, but none of them have brought what most Burundians want - an end to the war."

While humanitarian organisations in Burundi welcomed the positive steps in the peace process and the renewed international attention that Burundi was receiving, they warned that the humanitarian situation on the ground was still a serious concern.

"Today people's eyes are on the political situation, but I think that it is important that we also talk about the people of Burundi as they are suffering extremely from this war," Antoine Gerard, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on Tuesday.

Burundi has been embroiled in internal conflict for decades, but the UN estimates that the most recent conflict, which was sparked off by the assassination of the first democratically elected Hutu president in October 1993, has left an estimated 300,000 dead and over a million people internally displaced or living abroad as refugees.

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