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Government, main rebel group sign ceasefire deal

[Burundi] CNDD-FDD leader Pierre Nkurunziza, South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Pierre Buyoya of Burundi at the Tuesday's ceasefire signing ceremony, Arusha, Tanzania.
Negotiations around the power-sharing equation decided at the Arusha meeting in 2000 remain deadlocked (IRIN)

After two days of tough negotiations and several alleged breakdowns of the talks, held in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, the Burundian government signed a ceasefire accord with the main faction of the country's largest rebel group on Tuesday.

The deal between the transitional government and Pierre Nkurunziza's faction of the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Forces pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD-FDD) ended the 19th regional summit on Burundi. The rivals appear to have compromised over the outstanding military and political issues that had blocked the talks and threatened the entire peace process.

After signing the accord, Burundian President Pierre Buyoya and Nkurunziza reaffirmed their commitment to see the agreement to end the war that began in 1993 implemented fully.

Details of the agreement are still sketchy. However, a Ugandan diplomat close to the talks said that the accord - the first that the South African talks facilitators have secured with a significant Hutu rebel faction - provided for the government army and the CNDD-FDD to retain their arms while the new national army was being established.

Once done - split in equal proportions between Tutsis and Hutus at all levels - then disarmament of the remaining forces could go ahead. However, analysts expressed surprise at this arrangement.

"Buyoya can never agree to the disarmament of the army," an analyst in Bujumbura told IRIN. "The army is the most volatile issue, and if he compromises, the situation is such that there is likely to be a coup."

The communiqué released at the end of the summit, which also outlined the political aspects of the accord, said the CNDD-FDD would "take part in the power-sharing arrangements of the transitional government" and "will become a political party under a new law governing political parties".

Many of the details of these political aspects are yet to be agreed on by the two parties. As a result, some observers are disappointed that more was not done to resolve the issues at the summit, rather than leaving them for later.

At one stage on Monday, after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had congratulated all the parties and just as the initial signing ceremony was about to begin, the CNDD-FDD demanded to re-examine the ceasefire document. Then, claiming that a clause had been removed without its consent, it called for a rewrite.

Museveni closed the summit, calling for an end to the "endless" and "unprincipled" wars in Africa, and saying that the onus of ending the resultant suffering was on both the peoples of the countries involved and the continent as a whole.

Despite the optimism prompted by the attainment of the ceasefire accord, observers have said there could still be problems with its implementation, because the signatories reached agreement only in response to "enormous pressure".

"Arusha was similar - people ended up feeling that they had to sign, because of the pressure and the need to look good. The result is that people don't believe in what they sign," one observer said.

The ceasefire deal, which the talks facilitator, Deputy President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, called "another victory for Africa", was accompanied by stern warnings of sanctions against Agathon Rwasa's Parti pour la liberation du peuple hutu-Force nationale de liberation, the remaining Hutu (Palipehutu-FNL) rebel group yet to join the peace process.

At the previous summit in October, Palipehutu-FNL was given 30 days to sign a ceasefire. Instead, it stepped up the fighting.

"I appeal to Palipehutu-FNL to stop what they are doing," Museveni said on Tuesday. "The region will not tolerate it. We are now on the verge of putting sanctions on the Palipehutu-FNL. They will be robust sanctions that will convince them not to cause trouble."

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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