Zuma intensifies talks in Burundi

Bujumbura - Deputy President Jacob Zuma, a key mediator in attempts to end Burundi's 11-year civil war, arrived here on Tuesday to discuss the president's attempts to amend a provisional constitution to allow him to run in elections later this year.

"I am here to convey a message from the region," Zuma told reporters upon his arrival in Bujumbura. He declined to elaborate.

President Domitien Ndayizeye is seeking amendments that would allow him to run in a presidential vote due in April. He also wants the post decided by popular vote, rather than by members of a new parliament that is to be elected in March.

Nearly 20 political parties - including Ndayizeye's own Front for Democracy in Burundi - have rejected the proposals, citing an August 2002 peace accord barring him and former president Pierre Buyoyo from serving again for at least five years.

Zuma, acting at the request of regional leaders, was planning to meet Ndayizeye and other participants in the peace process.

Also under discussion will be preparations for a February 28 referendum to approve the provisional constitution.

The referendum and elections would be Burundi's first democratic polls since the civil war between the army dominated by minority Tutsis and rebels from the Hutu majority.

The conflict broke out in October 1993 after Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country's first democratically elected leader, a Hutu. More than 260 000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed.

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