Aim for negotiations with FNL, UN official urges

Following a constitutional referendum earlier this week, Burundi should now focus on finding ways to end fighting between government forces and the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL), the only rebel group that is still active, a UN official said on Thursday.

"Toady, we are still continuing to facilitate negotiations and are working to remove any hindrances to the move," Penaguini Touré, the spokesman of the UN Mission in Burundi (ONUB), said at a news conference in the capital, Bujumbura.

He had called the conference to congratulate Burundians for their "exemplary attitude" during Monday's referendum, which saw 91.2 percent of Burundians vote "yes" to a new constitution that guarantees power sharing between the minority Tutsis and the majority Hutus, the two main communities in the country.

"Burundians voted for peace and for continuation of the peace process," he said.

However, he added, Burundi's electoral commission should correct the shortcomings observed during the referendum in general elections that are scheduled for April. He was responding to a question on the lack of adequate observers during the referendum.

Touré said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Burundi, Carolyn McAskie, accompanied by Burundian officials, toured various polling stations to "verify if the referendum was held in a good way".

He said ONUB was regularly calling on FNL, led by Agathon Rwasa, and the National Defence Forces to begin negotiations. He added that the ONUB had already taken measures in this regard when it facilitated talks between McAskie and the FNL in 2004 in Nairobi, Kenya.

FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana told IRIN on Thursday that voters in the western province of Bujumbura-Rural, the rebel group's stronghold, had participated in the referendum because FNL had observed a truce on the day following a request by ONUB.

During the news conference, ONUB's military spokesman, Maj Adama Diop, announced that the Implementation and Monitoring Committee (IMC) of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accord, signed in August 2000 in Arusha, Tanzania, had begun talks on the setting up of a cantonment centre for Burundian armed forces and their integration in the new army.

Meanwhile, Maj Diop announced at the news conference that a Nepalese UN peacekeeper had died in a road accident on Wednesday at Musenyi, in the western province of Bubanza.

He said five Nepalese peacekeepers were heading to Bujumbura onboard a UN lorry when a civilian lorry hit them. The driver of the UN lorry died on impact while four peacekeepers were injured, two of them seriously, Diop said. Two civilians were also injured.

The dead peacekeeper was part of a Nepalese contingent that arrived in Burundi on 21 February 2005. He was the fifth UN peacekeeper killed in Burundi since the deployment of the UN troops in June 2004.

Some 5,369 UN peacekeepers are deployed in Burundi. Diop said Kirghistan became the 51st contributor with the arrival of an observer on Tuesday.