Rebel group vows to stop hostilities

At the end of a four-day meeting in the Tanzanian town of Kigoma, the Burundian rebel Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) faction led by Agathon Rwasa announced on Wednesday that it had decided to suspend hostilities against the transitional government of Burundi.

"We have decided to stop fighting immediately but if attacked we will defend ourselves," Pasteur Habimana, the FNL spokesman, told IRIN on Wednesday.

Reacting to the FNL announcement, Burundi's communication minister and government spokesman, Onesime Nduwimana, told reporters on Thursday in the capital, Bujumbura, that there would be no military offensive by government forces if Rwasa's group stopped attacks.

Rwasa's group also said it had relaxed its stance regarding peace negotiations with the government but that such talks would not begin before the international community listened to its grievances. The group had previously refused to negotiate with the government of President Domitien Ndayizeye, and before him that of President Pierre Buyoya.

"After exposing the reasons that pushed the FNL to take up weapons, the international community will decide whether or not we should start negotiations with the government," Habimana said.

Rwasa's FNL had always demanded to hold talks with leaders of the Tutsi community. However, in December 2003, the group agreed to meet Ndayizeye but the talks were suspended after FNL accused him of failing to honour his pledges.

Past efforts by representatives of the international community to get the FNL to start negotiations with the government have also failed, with the Great Lakes region's initiative on Burundi threatening to impose sanctions on Rwasa's FNL.

On Tuesday, while opening the 18th session of the Implementation and Monitoring Commission of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accord, Chairman Berhanu Dinka said the mediator in Burundi's peace process, South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, was in permanent consultation with the FNL and would brief a forthcoming regional heads of state summit on the outcome.

The marginalisation of Rwasa's FNL began in 2003 after the main rebel movement in the country, led by Pierre Nkurunziza, signed a power-sharing agreement with the government. Fighters formerly loyal to Nkurunziza have since joined government troops against Rwasa's FNL.

Rwasa's FNL remains active in the province on Bujumbura Rural, which surrounds the capital, with civilians often displaced during fighting.