A 226-strong contingent of Ethiopian soldiers led by Lt-Col Meley Amare arrived in Bujumbura, capital of Burundi, on Saturday to begin peacekeeping duties.
"We are awaiting for another 226, due to arrive on Monday or Tuesday," Amare told reporters at the International Airport of Bujumbura. "The force is due to be complete by Saturday or Sunday next week, when a 900-soldier contingent will be here in Burundi."
He added that Ethiopia had agreed to provide 1,300 peacekeepers to Burundi for at least one year.
The head of the African peacekeeping Mission in Burundi (AMIB), Mamadou Bah, welcomed the Ethiopians but reminded them of their duty.
"Your coming here is not an act of tourism; you are called by Africa to help Africa through Burundi. You are not here to watch war, but to fight for peace," Bah said. "It will not be easy: you have left your families and your friends to come to a country that you do not know. You will find that it is a country of noble people, a country of people who are good and strong, but who are following a difficult path to peace. You will find difficulties, but I believe you are well prepared to overcome these difficulties."
AMIB is mandated to help in the disarmament, demobilisation and integration of ex-combatants into new defence and security forces under the terms of a ceasefire agreement signed by the government and three rebel movements.
So far, only one demobilisation centre has been established in Burundi, at Muyange, 30 km northwest of Bujumbura. Intended to accommodate between 2,500 and 3,000 combatants, it currently houses 191 former fighters belonging to the smaller factions of two rebel groups, the Conseil National pour la Defense de la Democratie-Forces pour la Defense de la Democratie (CNDD-FDD) led by Jean Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, and the Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL) led by Alain Mugabarabona.
However, the 140 CNDD-FDD combatants cantoned at Muyange left the site Saturday for several hours, complaining of difficult living conditions in the camp. Following discussions with their leaders, they returned to the camp. Bah acknowledged difficult living conditions, but urged combatants to be patient.
He said: "Food conditions in the demobilisation centre are not completely fulfilled.
"I heard that the combatants complained that in addition to the ratio they receive, they want meat. For us, this is not a problem - the AU [African Union] agreed to provide US $150,000 to feed the combatants, even though it is not our duty to feed them. What I ask is that they be patient. But the question I am asking myself is how many displaced persons or street children eat meat?"
The Ethiopians arrive as the peace process still faces major challenges: first, the government has yet to reach a power-sharing agreement with the principal rebel movement, the CNDD-FDD faction led by Pierre Nkurunziza; second, the second-largest rebel faction, the Forces Nationales de Liberation led by Agathon Rwasa, has not yet signed an agreement with the government and is still refusing to join the peace process.
Bah said the success of the peacekeepers would depend on political progress.
He said AMIB planned to open additional demobilisation centres when accords with leaders of rebel movements that had agreed to the ceasefire had been reached.
"We will open other demobilisation centres in accordance with them, with the Joint Ceasefire Commission and the rest of the warring parties," Bah said.
Funding shortfalls have caused the delay in the full deployment of AMIB troops, Bah said, but he added that these problems had been partly solved.
"There is still a problem of budget, but this problem is ours, we have to do whatever possible, we have promises and we rely on them," he said.
He said the United States had financed the deployment of the Ethiopians, and that Britain had accepted to help the Mozambicans. Maputo has agreed to supply 228 troops, with part of its contingent expected to arrive on Tuesday. Apart from the 226 Ethiopians who arrived on Saturday, some 1,600 South African peacekeepers are already in Burundi.
AMIB is ultimately expecting a total of 3,128 peacekeepers.
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