Mandela hopes deal will bring peace to Burundi

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The Independent Online

A new Burundian government was sworn in yesterday under an ethnic power-sharing deal brokered by Nelson Mandela. The deal aims to end eight years of civil war between Tutsis and Hutus that has cost the lives of nearly 250,000 people.

The former South African president, who will now stand down as mediator after the inauguration of the transitional government, recognised at the ceremony that "much remains to be done before peace has finally and irrevocably been established in Burundi.

"But no one can deny that the establishment of a ... transitional government in this deeply divided country represents a major breakthrough and advance on the road to lasting peace," he said.

Seven hundred South African troops have been sent to the tiny landlocked country to guarantee the safety of returning Hutu politicians. But the two main rebel groups, who have not signed up to the ceasefire, are calling for the South African "occupation troops" to be considered as a target.

The new administration is to be led in its first phase by Pierre Buyoya, the Tutsi military officer who has led the country since seizing power in a 1996 coup. The Mandela-brokered accord provides for Mr Buyoya to remain president for a further 18 months, during which a more ethnically balanced cabinet, parliament and army are due to be established.

A leading Hutu opposition figure, Domitien Ndayizeye, who was sworn in yesterday as vice-president under Mr Buyoya, is to take over as president during the second part of the three-year transitional administration, which has been greeted with deep scepticism by many Tutsis.

The power-sharing arrangement provides for the majority Hutus to hold 14 of the 26 government portfolios. Tutsis will hold the positions of defence, foreign affairs and finance, while the Hutus keep the ministries of public security and the interior.

The new parliament will have an upper house for the first time. Under the new configuration of the lower house, 60 per cent of seats are reserved for Hutus and 40 per cent for Tutsis. Multiparty elections are scheduled for 2004.

More than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Burundi since Hutu rebels launched an insurgency in 1993, after the assassination by Tutsi soldiers of the country's first Hutu president. The Tutsis have dominated politics since the country was granted independence from Belgium in 1962.

Since Mr Buyoya took power, hundreds of thousands of Hutus have been herded into camps – compared to concentration camps by human rights organisations – purportedly for their own protection.

The accord was signed in August last year, after two years of arduous negotiations, by the Buyoya government, the parliament and 17 political parties – 10 Tutsi, seven Hutu – but the rebels have refused to take part in the peace process, and low-level fighting has continued.

Mr Mandela expressed guarded optimism about the prospects of a ceasefire with the Hutu rebels. "A breakthrough is happening today. I always told my colleagues not to be pessimistic. Let's not let the armed wings hold this peace process to ransom," he said after the inauguration, to which the public was not invited for security reasons.

Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo from Nigeria, Benjamin Mkapa from Tanzania, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Bakili Muluzi of Malawi attended the ceremony.