Sunday, June 18, 2006


Hundreds of thousands have fled the Burundi conflict over the years. Burundi's government and the country's last active rebel group have agreed to end hostilities and draft a permanent ceasefire deal in the next two weeks. Representatives of the government and the Hutu National Liberation Front (FNL) rebels signed a framework accord in Tanzania's capital on Sunday.

This follows nearly three weeks of talks mediated by South Africa. Observers say a deal with the FNL is seen as one of the final hurdles for stability after the long civil war. It is the only group still outside a power-sharing agreement aimed at ending the conflict. Although the government and FNL rebels agreed a ceasefire in May last year, fighting between the sides resumed after only a week.

About 300,000 people have been killed in the civil war sparked in 1993 by the assassination of Burundi's first Hutu head of state and democratically-elected president, Melchior Ndadaye. "The parties commit to engage in serious discussions aimed at ending hostilities and to reach a comprehensive ceasefire within the period of two weeks," the agreement signed in Dar es Salam by NFL leader Agathon Rwasa said, AFP news agency reported. The presidents of South Africa and Tanzania were among those who witnessed the signing, along with representatives of the African Union and the United Nations.

President Nkurunziza led the rival FDD rebels during the conflict.The accord would pave the way for the FNL's return as a political party involved in post-conflict reconstruction and development, South African foreign affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa was quoted as saying. There are no details of how remaining disagreements have been overcome. A government official had said that the earlier sticking point was a demand by the FNL for the national army to be disbanded.

The FNL was the only one of seven Hutu rebel groups not to sign a 2000 peace deal which saw a power-sharing government installed last year headed by Mr Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader. The talks which began on 29 May were the FNL's first direct negotiations with the Burundi government since it was elected. During the talks, the rebels shelled the Burundian capital twice, killing one person and wounding at least 15 others, Reuters news agency said.


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