“We have done it together,” Burundi peace mediator Nelson Mandela told a conference hall packed with Burundi delegates, African heads of state and international envoys as the signing ceremony for a peace accord finally started in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha late on Monday.
He was referring to the last-minute agreement by Tutsi parties to join Hutu parties in signing the regionally brokered agreement. But the togetherness referred to by Nelson Mandela was not shared by the Burundi parties, whose sharp differences almost caused the signing ceremony, attended by US President Bill Clinton, to abort.
“The Hutus think they have an agreement and the Tutsis think they still have room to negotiate, because they signed with reservations. All the same it is a good start,” a Cape Town-based consultant in political analysis, conflict resolution mediation and advocacy, Jan Van Eck, told IRIN. Despite Tutsi parties signing with reservations, delegates hugged and congratulated each other after the signing and speculated on the future.
THE RWANDAN EXPERIENCE
The Burundi peace agreement is seen by many observers in the context of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix of Tutsis and Hutus. “In the case of Rwanda, the region was not united. Today we cannot allow genocide to happen anywhere, let alone Burundi,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the chairman of the regional initiative on Burundi, told delegates during the signing ceremony. A total of 200,000 people estimated to have been killed since the murder of democratically elected Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye in 1993.
The chairman of committee II, the Governance and Democracy Committee, which deals with issues of elections and transition mechanisms, Professor Nicholas Haysom, told IRIN that signatories to the agreement had 30 days to agree on who will lead the transitional government and on how to divide cabinet seats among themselves.
“What is important is to avoid a vacuum. We have to start implementation of the process as soon as possible,” Professor Haysom told IRIN. Facilitators admit that while they remained optimistic the accord will be implemented there were still hurdles on the way which could take time to clear.
RAPID IMPLEMENTATION UNLIKELY
Rapid implementation of the agreement is likely to be further complicated by the fact that the government and six Tutsi parties signed with reservations. Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General Ambassador Berhanu Dinka was, however, less pessimistic. “While regretting the reservations, I have no doubt that all signatories will work in good faith for the implementation of the agreement,” he told IRIN.
Most international envoys to the Burundi talks told IRIN that by signing with reservations the Tutsi parties had rendered implementation of the agreement “unsustainable”. Tutsi parties and President Buyoya, who is an ethnic Tutsi, needed to justify the signing of the agreement, which is fiercely opposed by many of the minority Tutsis. “Signing with reservations was clearly the only way to ease fears among Tutsis opposed to the peace deal. They had to be assured that this was not the last act in the negotiations,” one regional analyst told IRIN.
Of immediate concern to the facilitation team and the signatories is to decide on who leads the country during the interim and transitional periods. Most parties agree that the current Burundian leader, Pierre Buyoya, should lead during the interim period, which will last for between three and six months. “Our party was the first to suggest that Buyoya can stay for six months to avoid a leadership vacuum,” the spokesman of the exile-based main rebel grouping, Counseil nationale pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD), Leonce Ndarubagiye, told IRIN.
BUYOYA TO REMAIN FOR NOW
Sources close to the mediator, former South African President Nelson Mandela, told IRIN that he backs Buyoya for the interim period of six months. But the main opposition party that won the 1993 general elections, the pro-Hutu Front pour la Democratie au Burundi (Frodebu), has reservations over the automatic choice of President Buyoya to lead during the interim period.
“There should be a clear legal framework to govern the leadership during the interim period to ensure that if all the parties agree on Buyoya leading the interim period, he does not take advantage of it to stay there,” exiled Frodebu leader Jean Minani told IRIN.
Most parties are focusing on the leadership during the transition period, which is to last up to three years, culminating in democratic elections and the creation of a new, ethnically-balanced national army and other institutions. “The transitional period is definitely the most important stage, because all the decisions which will determine the future of Burundi will be taken during it. That is why many names are being floated as leaders for the transition period,” the leader of Parti Socialiste et Panafricaniste (Inkinzo), one of the Tutsi parties which signed the Arusha agreement, Alponse Rugambarara, told IRIN.
Buyoya’s supporters are working hard to convince the other parties, the facilitator and regional leaders to compromise on Buyoya being president during both the interim and the transition periods. “To ensure that the peace process will work, Buyoya has to lead the during the transition period, because it is he who will be able to prepare the army, and other strong interests in the country, for change,” a senior aide to Buyoya told IRIN. However, the Hutu parties and some Tutsi parties are against Buyoya leading during the transition period. “It is time for Buyoya to go, because he has no new ideas,” the president of the Alliance Burundo-Africane pour le Sault (Abasa), Terence Nsaze, told IRIN
MANDELA LOBBYING FOR TROOPS
The facilitator of the Burundi peace talks, former South African President Nelson Mandela, is lobbying for up to 2,000 troops to provide security for exiled Hutu leaders presently afraid to return home. “The issue of providing protection services for leaders who left Burundi fearing for their lives is to be worked on. I called the United Nations Secretary-General about this issue and I have held discussions with [South African] President Mbeki,” Mandela told delegates after the signing ceremony.
Senior United Nations officials told IRIN that offering individual protection to returning political leaders is something which is new in the peacekeeping experience of the UN. “But this does not mean that it cannot be done. The UN supports the Burundi peace agreement and is ready to offer any help, subject to the approval of the Security Council,” Ambassador Dinka told IRIN.
The peace accord’s greatest impediment so far is its failure to involve the two main armed rebel factions, and this has been sharply criticised by the government and Tutsi parties. “This is the time for a ceasefire agreement between rebel and government forces to be negotiated, otherwise there is a risk of parties which have signed with reservations jumping out of the deal,” a western diplomat told IRIN.
The Burundi government said regional governments should commit themselves to putting pressure on the rebels to reach a ceasefire agreement with government. “We are ready for a cessation of hostilities, but the other side has to be engaged for it to hold. If it fails to do so, then the region should condemn it,” the Burundian minister in charge of the peace process, Ambroise Niyonsaba, told IRIN.
Having been boosted by Monday’s signing, the facilitator of the peace process, Nelson Mandela, has stepped up efforts to include Hutu rebel groups in the talks by announcing that a meeting between Buyoya and the rebels is scheduled to take place in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, this month. Mandela has also invited the four Tutsi parties to go to Johannesburg, South Africa, to try and persuade them to sign.