Mandela's role in Burundi peace talks may be catalyst for new genocide, observers warn

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The Independent Online

Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela hope their presence today at talks to end seven years of slaughter in Burundi will create an impetus for peace. But many observers are warning that Mr Mandela's mediation tactics have polarised views and may even have sown the seeds for a new genocide.

Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela hope their presence today at talks to end seven years of slaughter in Burundi will create an impetus for peace. But many observers are warning that Mr Mandela's mediation tactics have polarised views and may even have sown the seeds for a new genocide.

Late last night in Arusha, Tanzania, it was still unclear what document, if any, would be signed today, in the presence of the US president, by the 19 parties taking part in talks to end ethnic killings which have claimed an estimated 200,000 lives in Burundi since 1993.

As Mr Mandela's aides pressured the parties at a plenary session last night to sign up to a document which would show President Clinton that there had been some progress, at least one talks facilitator was preparing to resign and several outside observers warned that a "Rwanda Mark Two'' (genocide) was in the making.

The facilitator, who is not African but chairs a crucial sub-committee in the talks, told The Independent on condition of anonymity: "Mandela has rushed in, rather late in the day, put his fist on the table and demanded results. That has been good because the Burundians are sophisticated in the art of circumventing issues. At the same time, Mandela has been insensitive to the Hutu-Tutsi realities in Burundi which are quite different from the black-white issues of South Africa. As a result, some old wounds have opened up. We could have another genocide.'' At least one US observer and two others working inside Burundi, a small mountain kingdom, which neighbours Rwanda, said they feared the worst. "There is no more poignant a pre-genocide situation in the Great Lakes now than in Burundi,'' said Steve Morrison of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.

On President Clinton's previous Africa trip, in 1998, he travelled to Rwanda where he apologised for US inaction over that country's genocide. In 1994, up to a million people, mainly Tutsis, died in three months of organised slaughter in Rwanda.

President Mandela took over the chairmanship of the Burundi talks at the beginning of this year, succeeding the former Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, who had headed the talks since 1998. Mr Nyerere was seen by some as partial and had little success up until his death last year.

By everyone's admission, President Mandela has got further, notably by including some previously excluded parties in the talks, or at least by keeping them informed on the sidelines.

However, the two main Hutu armed groups are still not mainstream parties in the talks and were not included in moves to draft the 110-page peace proposal currently on the table.

This proposal envisages a transitional process to be chaired by a president who has yet to be chosen. The president would select a government, 60 per cent of which would consist of politicians chosen by the Hutu parties, and 40per cent by the Tutsis.

The transition would last for three years and all laws, including a new constitution, would have to be passed with a two-thirds majority. The constitution would be put to a referendum and a general election would take place.

Crucially, the armed forces and police, which are currently Tutsi-led, would be reformed to be representative of the population by the integration of present Hutu militias. International peacekeepers would be deployed and a truth commission introduced.

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