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Burundi declines Mandela's peacekeeper offer

Published Nov 27, 2000


Arusha, Tanzania - Former South African president Nelson Mandela failed on Monday to convince Burundi's president to accept African peacekeepers to guarantee stability during a transition period meant to end seven-years of civil war in the central African country.

Mandela met with Burundian President Pierre Buyoya till midnight on Sunday and again on Monday to obtain approval for peacekeepers from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Malawi, Mark Bomani, head of Mandela's mediation team said.

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Buyoya, who was hastily summoned to Tanzania by Mandela to discuss the issue, said he must first consult with government colleagues, a senior aide to Mandela said.

"Peacekeepers are crucial to create stability in Burundi and Mandela had previously brought up the idea with Buyoya, but this is the first time the two held extensive discussions on the matter," Bomani said.

The civil war began in October 1993, when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi's first democratically elected president and a Hutu, triggering the Hutu rebellion. More than 200 000 people have been killed, mostly civilians caught in the cross fire. Hundreds of thousands others have been displaced.

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Mandela has worked for more than a year to broker a deal between Buyoya's government, the army, seven Hutu political parties and 10 Tutsi parties. However, the leadership of the transitional government and a ceasefire to end the fighting have remained major sticking points.

"We must focus our minds on the issue of transition because it is a matter of great urgency," Mandela told the 19 groups. "If there are critical issues still outstanding, it would be difficult for donor organisations to make maximum pledges during the forthcoming conference."

The conference is set for December 11-12, in Paris.

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The World Bank has pledged at least $50-million (about R390-million) for Burundi's reconstruction, Mandela said.

The former South African president later launched a committee charged with co-ordinating implementation of Burundi's peace agreement.

The committee will be led by the UN representative to Burundi, Berhanu Dinka, he said.

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Later, Mandela came face to face with a Burundian political prisoner who was released November 10 and is now a representative of the Parena party in the implementation monitoring committee.

A tearful Isaac Nitereka rushed to Mandela as he was about to board his limousine for the airport and thanked him profusely for visiting him in prison in June.

"I was arrested by the army and imprisoned for more than three years awaiting trial on allegations of plotting to assassinate Buyoya," said the former chief of recruitment for the opposition Parena party. "I was released with seven others three months after Mandela visited us in jail."

Under Burundi's power-sharing plan, the groups agreed to an ethnically balanced army and legislature. But the two Hutu rebel groups boycotted the peace talks, and fighting in the central African country has intensified. - Sapa-AP

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