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BURUNDI: Rebel group says yes to negotiations but rejects Zuma as mediator

Bujumbura, 3 February 2005 (IRIN) - Burundi's remaining active rebel group, the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL), said on Thursday it was ready for talks with the transitional government, on condition that South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma does not act as mediator.

FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana said Zuma, who is also the facilitator of Burundi's peace process under an initiative of the Great Lakes regional heads of state, had in the past rejected FNL's proposal to hold talks with the Burundian government.

"Proposing to mediate between the government and the movement now seems, therefore, untimely," Habimana said.

Instead, he said, the FNL preferred that the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Burundi and head of the UN mission there, Carolyn McAskie, who made contact with the FNL in 2004, mediated in the proposed talks.

"We did not choose her, she came to us on her own accord and we would like her to continue," Habimana said.

At a news conference on Thursday in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, McAskie did not rule out the possibility of the UN mediating between the FNL and the transitional government. She said the region had established a facilitator to oversee the peace process in Burundi but if the UN could bring its contribution to the process, "we are ready to play a role". The UN was in Burundi, she said, "to speed up the peace process".

Regional heads of state had declared the FNL, led by Agathon Rwasa, a terrorist movement after it claimed responsibility for the killing of 160 Congolese refugees at a camp in Gatumba on 13 August 2004.

On Wednesday, Jéremie Ngendakumana, the military spokesman of the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie–Forces de defense de la democratie (CNDD–FDD) - formerly the largest rebel movement now turned political party - said on national television that negotiations with the FNL could not take place unless regional heads of state changed their position and stopped taking it as a terrorist movement.

Nevertheless, McAskie said the door remained open for the FNL, if it showed a strong will in favour of negotiations.

Habimana said only Burundian people could judge the movement's acts.

Until late January, Rwasa's FNL had refused to negotiate with the Burundian government saying it would only do so with Tutsi leaders in government. However, the FNL maintains that a "social contract" between the country's three ethnic groups - the Hutu, Tutsi and the Twa - must first be established to end the various injustices committed in the country since independence from Belgium in 1962.

Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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