Burundi is due to experience a shift in the political balance of power on 1 May when President Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, hands over power to Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu.
Negotiations leading up to the establishment on 1 November 2001 of a three-year power-sharing government were fraught with uncertainty because of ongoing rebel activity. Under the deal, Buyoya was to hand over to Ndayizeye at the end of 18 months, which coincides with 1 May 2003.
The African Union interim chairman's special envoy to Burundi, Ambassador Mamadou Bah, spoke to IRIN on 29 April about some of the challenges facing the country.
QUESTION: Can you explain the importance this transferral of power forma Tutsi to a Hutu president?
ANSWER: This is important, because it shows that there is a process that has been begun and is continuing, uninterrupted. The important thing is that people have entered into agreements and they have respected them. This is important, because it shows the process continuing according to the plan that will help democratise Burundi. That is why it is important, and it is important because it is the way to bring peace and a definitive resolution of a conflict.
Q: But there are some who say the process itself is going too fast, and the war and the people of Burundi are being left behind.
A: No, the process is not going too fast. When you have a country in a crisis, where economic development is blocked by hostilities between belligerents and there are deaths, nothing that we do can be seen to be too fast. It is true that there are some problems that have not been resolved but it you can't say that the method is too fast just because of them. I think it is rather that there are problems with both the doctors and the patients that need to be resolved before the medication can take its course.
Q: What exactly are the 43 AU observers doing in the country?
A: On the ground, they are keeping an eye on what is happening, they report on it to me and I then report to my superiors.
Q: On Sunday, 126 peacekeepers arrived in Burundi, but there is still no peace. Are these troops going to be peacekeepers or peace enforcers?
A: No they are not a force that will impose peace. Their mandate is to keep the peace and we set out to deploy them because it was agreed and signed on in the ceasefire. It was from that moment that we decided to deploy a peacekeeping force. The process is still in place and it is not in question. It is the peace that we are supposed to be keeping that is being questioned and violated here and there. But we cannot stop the deployment as a result of this. Rather, we should speed up the process of resolving the differences that are leading to the hostilities before interrupting the deployment.
Q: How many of these troops will there be, where will they be stationed and what are their rules of engagement?
A: I do not want to talk about rules of engagement. That is a politico-technical problem and there is the force commander that will deal with them. Rules of engagement apply to those on the ground, not in the theory of an office. But the peacekeeping force will absorb those that are here working in the protection unit and as observers. While they will all have their different roles, they will all be working towards maintaining peace, but I don't know how many they will finally be.
Q: There is talk of three cantonnement camps for the rebels. Where and when will these be established?
A: It is not yet the time to talk about where these will be set up. We have three countries that are contributing troops so we'll have to wait for them to get here, for the commanders to develop their plan and decide, in agreement with everyone else, where the troops will be deployed.
Q: Have the international community and the UN given the AU enough support in the search for peace in Burundi?
A: Yes. The African Union, and Burundi, has greatly benefited from the support of everyone. Let me explain - one day, I met someone in Nairobi and he said, 'Why all this movement to Burundi? Is it oil, or maybe diamonds?' I told him no. Then he asked, 'Why all this attention? Everyone is rallying around Burundi.' There are not many conflicts in the world that everyone is turning their attention to. The UN has done a lot as well - the proof is in their office here in Burundi. It is one of their most important in the world.
Q: Do you not think that regional stability will still affect Burundi?
A: You know, some people say this, but I do not think so. I think that Burundi's dangers come from within. The day Burundians can convince themselves that, whatever the problem they have, the best way is to sit and talk and replace all this violence with dialogue, then no one will be able to destabilise them. I think Burundi has had its share of instability and violence and we have nearly hit rock bottom and must try to climb out. Of course, that requires political will and lots of effort, not only from within Burundi but also from the international community.
Q: How fair is the criticism of the international community received over the delay in bringing in the AU observers and peacekeepers?
A: It is not right to speak of a delay. The AU [then the Ogranisation of African Unity] began here in 1993 and, over time, it has not been a sprint but a marathon. Clearly, we have some problems. There is everything that happened between the signing of the ceasefire and the arrival of the observers and the peacekeepers. I do admit that things have gone somewhat slowly, but that is not because people were working slowly, but because the logistics of the operation are not easy.