Burundi's President balks at Mandela's power-sharing plan

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The Independent Online

Burundi's President demanded last-minute changes to a power-sharing agreement as US President Bill Clinton and eight African leaders gathered yesterday to witness the signing of the deal.

Burundi's President demanded last-minute changes to a power-sharing agreement as US President Bill Clinton and eight African leaders gathered yesterday to witness the signing of the deal.

While the African leaders waited on stage for two hours, President Pierre Buyoya refused to emerge until the chief mediator, Nelson Mandela, agreed to amend the deal that the former South African president has pushed him to sign.

The compromise deal would establish an ethnically balanced government joining Hutus and Tutsis, even if it stops short of bringing peace to the central African nation.

The main sticking point was when a three-year transition process to democracy would begin. Mr Buyoya demanded that no transition to multi-ethnic rule begin until a cease-fire is signed with Hutu rebels who have boycotted the talks.

The agreement now calls for the transition to begin immediately, according to a member of the mediation team who spoke on condition he not be named.

When Mr Clinton arrived at the hall in Arusha, Tanzania, where the signing was due to take place, it was not clear if the differences had been resolved. He and Mr Mandela were backstage discussing the talks.

"We've been in the labour room waiting for the baby to be born, and the labour is taking a little longer than expected," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said.

The negotiators are from seven political parties representing the Hutu majority, 10 parties representing the Tutsi minority and negotiators from the Tutsi-dominated government and army.

Without a cease-fire, Mr Buyoya will face stiff opposition back home. He has repeatedly asked Mr Mandela to delay an agreement until the Hutu rebels join the talks.

Mr Mandela has refused, and invited Mr Clinton and the African leaders for the signing ceremony in a bid to force a compromise.

Many Tutsis in Burundi fear that sharing power will put them at the mercy of the Hutu majority, and that they will meet the same fate as Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda. In 1994, more than 500,000 Rwandans, mainly Tutsis, were the victims of a Hutu genocide. (AP)

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