Mkapa agrees to hold talks with rebels

Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa has agreed to hold talks with two Burundi rebel groups, with the aim of ending Burundi's civil war.

The two rebel groups, the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Forces pour la defense de la democratie and the Forces nationale de liberation refused to sign the Arusha Peace Accord, concluded in 1999, or to observe a cease-fire, despite the establishment of a three-year transitional power-sharing government in Burundi on 1 November 2001.

Internews reported Mkapa as saying his government would "intensify peace efforts" by holding direct talks with the Hutu rebels. "We have the task of convincing the rebels to agree to meet the transitional government, to stop fighting and to talk peace," he said.

He was speaking after a meeting on Thursday with Burundi President Pierre Buyoya. Buyoya told reporters he had come to Tanzania to thank the government for its efforts to help implement the Arusha accord; to evaluate the implementation process and the way forward; and to ask the Tanzania for help in solving "pending issues" such as the lack of a cease-fire, the Hirondelle news agency reported.

The speaker of the Burundi National Assembly, Jean Minani, the foreign ministers of Tanzania and Burundi, the Tanzanian defence minister and the Burundian ministers in charge of trade and refugees were also present at the Arusha summit.

South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma had asked Mkapa to hold the talks. Zuma and Gabonese President Omar Bongo have been negotiating separately with the rebels to convince them to accept the Arusha accord.

Meanwhile, on Friday the Tanzania-based Guardian newspaper quoted Mkapa as saying: "I would like to warn those factions still fighting in Burundi that the patience of neighbouring countries and of the international community has been stretched to the limit."