Cautious optimism over Burundi truce

Burundi’s last rebel fighters are respecting a ceasefire with the government, but the Central African nation needs to move quickly to demobilise and integrate them for lasting stability, an army spokesperson said on Monday.

The government signed a full ceasefire with the Forces for National Liberation (FNL) last Thursday, boosting hopes of a complete end to ethnic conflict that has killed 300 000 people in the mountainous coffee-growing country since 1993.

Under the agreement signed in neighbouring Tanzania, the FNL’s estimated 3 000 guerrillas are to start gathering at assembly points where they must decide whether to join the national army or be demobilised.

Army spokesperson Adolphe Manirakazia said the ceasefire came into effect on Sunday, and called on all points of the accord to be swiftly implemented to avoid any violations.

“We are happy that the ceasefire is still respected, that no bullet has been fired by FNL rebels,” Manirakiza told Reuters.

“Our great wish is to see this lasting long.”

However, he said the FNL assembly points—to be agreed on by both sides—had yet to be identified. “And to my knowledge the FNL have not yet started gathering,” he added.

“This process should not delay because from our experience, when rebels delay going into those assembly points, where they can be assisted in food, they begin looting the population and the army can’t accept that.”

Manirakiza said the United Nations’ Operation in Burundi, in charge of monitoring the ceasefire, was expected to play a role in helping both sides set up the assembly areas.

The signing of the deal was greeted with caution by some who say past truces have failed to hold with the FNL and army clashing in the country’s steamy forests within days.

Bringing the hard-line Hutu FNL into Burundi’s UN-backed peace process is viewed as one of the last steps to restoring stability to the country of 7,5-million people, which has suffered successive cycles of ethnic bloodshed since independence from Belgium in 1962.

The ceasefire was welcomed by Burundians tired of fighting between members of the Tutsi minority—who had dominated politics and the military—and rebels from the Hutu majority.

“If FNL leader Agathon Rwasa has signed with conviction, there’s no doubt there will be peace. But if the government does not implement the agreement, there’s no doubt war will resume”, said taxi driver Jacques Pilipili.

“But the hope is there since the FNL—who are usually hardliners—have agreed to lay down their arms,” he added.

Housekeeper Isaac Butoyi was also cautiously optimistic.

“We hope there won’t be excuses from the FNL and government sides not to implement the deal.
They have had enough time to negotiate. We don’t want to hear that there are issues which they didn’t agree on,” he said.—Reuters

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