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Feature on the Burundi peace mission

Country Map - Mozambique IRIN
Urban Mozambicans feel the effects of the regional food crisis
Although small in number, Mozambique's troop contribution to the African Union's (AU) first peace mission to Burundi is significant for a country that a little over a decade ago was itself wracked by civil war. Out of the total African Mission in Burundi (AMIB) force of 2,870, Mozambique is expected to ultimately provide 290 men under the terms of a ceasefire agreement signed by three rebel movements and the government last year. By comparison South Africa, which is leading the mission, will deploy 1,600 troops alongside 980 Ethiopians. "This is the first time we're sending such a large contingent of soldiers on a peacekeeping operation," Mozambique's vice minister of defence, Henrique Banze, told IRIN. "We feel an obligation to participate, as Mozambique is part of the AU. Also, other countries assisted us in the past, now it is our turn." Last year Mozambique celebrated a decade of peace after 16 years of bitter conflict between the ruling FRELIMO government and the now parliamentary opposition party, RENAMO. A UN peacekeeping mission observed the 1992 ceasefire and helped organise the country's first multiparty elections in 1994. Banze pointed to Mozambique's experience, not just in demobilising its rival armies and the formation of a new non-partisan military, but also in the reintegration of demobilised soldiers, and millions of displaced people. Hundreds of thousands of refugees in neighbouring countries also returned safely - challenges that Burundi now faces. AMIB's mandate, the first peacekeeping operation under the auspices of the AU, includes overseeing the implementation of the ceasefire agreements: supporting disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration initiatives, and ensuring that conditions favourable for the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation will be in place. Banze said the decision to participate in AMIB had been welcomed by Burundi, who appreciated Mozambique's role in the peace negotiations. Two of Mozambique's most senior politicians, Armando Guebuza, who is both FRELIMO's secretary-general and presidential candidate in the coming 2004 elections, and Francisco Madeira, from the Office of the President, took part in the Burundi peace negotiations alongside former South African president, Nelson Mandela. In the past, Mozambique's international peacekeeping contributions have been limited to a handful of personnel to countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Comoros and some observers and military police to East Timor. Mozambique's relatively large AMIB contingent is expected to arrive by the end of June and will remain for an initial one-year period, subject to renewal and pending the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force. Analysts say Mozambique's decision to send troops would add credibility to Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano's chairmanship of the AU following a summit in the capital, Maputo, in July. It will also elevate the international standing of the country, one of the world's poorest. "Our participation in future peacekeeping operations will grow gradually," Banze predicted. But with the military facing many challenges, Mozambique's future success in such operations will depend on many factors. The Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique (FADM) are low on the government's list of priorities. With over 70 percent of the population classified as poor, the main battle is seen as fighting poverty. Yet, building up FADM is still a concern. Mozambique's General Peace Accord of 1992 envisaged a force of 30,000 troops made up equally from FRELIMO and RENAMO. So far the army only numbers around 11,000. All Mozambicans between the ages of 18 and 35 are liable to two years compulsory military service. However, observers say the challenge is to encourage more people to choose a career in the army. Banze pointed to the general feeling of being "burnt out" by 16 years of civil war. "After the war, [young men and women] just wanted to go home and see their families." He said the government would like to offer better conditions to those entering the armed forces as an inducement to enlistment. Although the salary of a junior officer is well above the minimum wage, support is needed to improve living conditions, sanitation, training and logistics for army personnel. Last year FADM started recruiting women again, although none are being sent to Burundi. The minister stressed this was not discrimination, but women soldiers had not been sufficiently trained. "We would like to have had women, and we hope to have for the next peacekeeping force. Historically, women have always participated (militarily)." The HIV/AIDS epidemic, affecting 13 percent of the country's population aged between 15 and 49, is another challenge for the military. Soldiers are classified as one of the most vulnerable groups. So far assistance to those soldiers living with HIV is mainly treatment for opportunistic infections, although a major prevention campaign has been launched.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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