FNL fighters assemble but continue to tax civilians

Map of Burundi
(IRIN )

Residents of two Burundian provinces that are strongholds of the Forces nationales de libération (FNL) rebel group, which has agreed a ceasefire with the government, have expressed concern over continued ‘taxation’ by the rebels.

The residents are also worried that the FNL is recruiting civilians to its ranks "as potential beneficiaries of demobilisation fees".

The FNL, led by Agathon Rwasa, and the government signed the ceasefire agreement on 7 September in Tanzania's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. Since then, FNL combatants have appeared in their strongholds of Bubanza and Bujumbura Rural, awaiting cantonment. The latter surrounds the capital, Bujumbura.

Previously, FNL fighters operated from a nature reserve on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Now they are turning up in villages, wearing military fatigues, in search of food, which is alarming the population, especially in Bujumbura Rural.

Although hostilities have ceased since the signing of the ceasefire, residents of Nyabiraba, Muhuta and Mutimbizi villages, all in Bujumbura Rural, have said the FNL fighters have been collecting "taxes", ranging from US $0.50 to $1.50 per cow, while recruiting civilians as potential beneficiaries of the demobilisation process.

"The situation could worsen if the FNL combatants are not quickly reintegrated from designated demobilisation centres," Pascal Nyabenda, the governor of Bubanza, said.

Nyabenda criticised the FNL leaders for failing to hold discussions with local authorities on ways to assemble and feed the combatants. He urged the government to provide food for the combatants to prevent them from stealing from civilians. Nyabenda said a team was needed to monitor the enforcement of the ceasefire accord between Rwasa's FNL and the government.

Some 169 FNL fighters had assembled in Mpanda District over the weekend but police dispersed them on Monday. In Bubanza, the fighters emerged from hideouts in Musigati District. Another 400 armed combatants, loyal to an FNL faction led by Jean-Bosco Sindayigaya, have assembled in Rumonge Commune in the southern province of Bururi.

However, some of Sindayigaya's fighters are resisting demobilisation. "Cantonment is premature at this time because our wing has not yet negotiated with the government," Edmond Mbonyingingo, a commander in the faction, said.

On Friday, a spokesman in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Public Security, Ildephonse Mushwabure, urged FNL combatants to stay where they were, pending cantonment.

South Africa, the mediator in the Burundi peace process, has said negotiations with Sindayigaya's FNL would take place after the signing of a ceasefire. A joint government-FNL team to implement the accord was to have been set up seven days after the signing but is not yet in place.

The accord stipulates that the FNL combatants assemble at designated points 14 days after the signing but these points have not been identified. Moreover, the accord provides for a 21-day period to demobilise the fighters and group those scheduled for integration in the national police and defence forces.

The timetable sets the end of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process at 30 days after the signing of the accord.

A DDR communications officer, Augustin Nzabampema, said a team was ready to demobilise FNL combatants after their assembly and cantonment. In addition, army spokesperson Lt-Col Adolphe Manirakiza said the military would enforce the accord and thus ensure the success of the peace process.

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