Three years since Arusha, peace remains elusive

Burundi celebrated on Thursday the third anniversary of the Arusha accord for peace and reconciliation, but analysts say the agreement has not yet met the expectations of the country's people.

Hailed at the time as a major step towards ending years of war because it brought important opposition parties together with the government, according to Human Rights Watch, fighting continued as the two main rebel groups, the Forces pour la defense de la democratie and the Forces nationales de liberation, refused to sign the accord. The conflict, which erupted in 1993 when Tutsi soldiers assassinated Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye, has claimed the lives of some 250,000 people, most of them civilians.

"The most important thing Burundians expected from the Arusha accord was peace," Eugene Nindorera, former minister of human rights and institutional reforms and now an independent analyst, told IRIN. "The population wants an end to war. I travelled several times to the countryside to collect people's opinions, and there is one common call from the population: they seek an end to war."

Another analyst, Nestor Bikorimana, who heads the Forum pour le renforcement de la societe civile, said the objectives of the Arusha accord - peace and reconciliation - had not yet been realised.

"We all agree that the achievement of peace is a long process, but the accord itself is not fully implemented, apart from the power-sharing government that has been established," he said. "But there is no effective ceasefire; although there has been some progress, the war continues."

For his part, Nindorera said the Arusha accord, in which Hutus and Tutsis agreed to share power, brought much hope to the population, but that there remained mistrust among the signatories of the accord.

"There is some cause for hope, but we are far from the goal. On the other hand, the agreement's implementation has been handicapped by the pursuit of violence," he said. "If mistrust persists among partners, it is very difficult to think that there is a common will to go in the same direction."

Another main problem, he said, was the question of impunity.

"I do not believe that through the Arusha accord the signatories have advanced proposals to address this problem; there are proposals, but sometimes they contradict," he said. "We talk about a national truth and reconciliation commission, we talk about genocide law, yet at the same time we talk about immunity law. We don't know how everyone understands these questions - everyone has his own interpretation, and in the end we find ourselves confused. This is a major handicap."

Nindorera also said that deficiencies in good governance also needed to be addressed: "Signatories of the Arusha accord think they cannot be arrested, despite wrongdoings. They must properly manage public wealth, and whoever mismanages must be replaced."

Nevertheless, Bikorimana said he believed the Arusha accord was an important document because it enabled Burundians to discuss problems that had plagued them for years.

"For the first time, Burundians sat down together and debated the questions that had divided them for decades, and there was a consensus reached. It is the first stone on which we should build even greater consensus," he said.