Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Rebel Leader in Burundi Gives up AK-47: Can Peace Be on the Way?

Last weekend may have marked the beginning of the peace in Burundi. Or so it seems: what a pleasure to read some good news!

According to the UN’s news agency IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks,) Agathon Rwasa, leader of Burundi's the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) which had been the last hold-out in a peace process begun nearly 10 years ago, gave up his AK-47 and military uniforms on Saturday at “a ceremony to mark the beginning of the demobilization of thousands of combatants.” The news service added at the FNL will become a political party, while 7,000 rebels will be integrated into the nation’s police forces and military by mid-May according to a time table worked out with a South African mediation team. Other rebels, particularly several thousand women and children, will be assisted in returning to their home regions.

The conflict in Burundi has gone on as long as that in its non-identical twin Rwanda, and also grows out of ethnic divisions between Hutus and Tutsis. Over the last 40 years, several hundred thousand people have been killed, but the concentrated massive carnage experienced in Rwanda 15 years ago this month did not occur. Since 2001 Burundi has been inching toward peaceful accommodation with governments of transition. For the last couple of years, the FNL has been the main holdout even though cease fire agreements had been signed in 2006.

You don’t turn rebels into loyal soldiers or policemen over night, of course, so Rwasa’s enthusiastic prediction of peace may be viewed with a bit of skepticism. Nevertheless, progress seems to be in the right direction. "Now the next fight in Burundi is a struggle against hunger and starvation.” the IRIN quotes Lt-Gen Derrick Ngueb of the mediation team. “If Burundi is stable, the region and the [African] continent will be improving in security and development."

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