Burundi: Braces up for another rebel leader in power

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Burundi is set to witness the transition of another rebel leader into presidency. Former rebel leader of a Hutu militia, Mr. Agathon Rwasa is running for president in the Burundi 2010 presidential elections, under the initially named ‘Party for the liberation of Hutus.’

“The time of taking power by force is over. Now is the time for dialogue and democracy,” Reuters quoted Mr. Rwasa as saying. He has also promised to govern on behalf of all Burundians, if elected.

If voted into power, Mr. Rwasa will replace incumbent president Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza, who is also a former rebel leader. Both President Nkurunziza and Mr. Rwasa led Hutu militia against the Tutsi dominated army of Burundi, in a ten year war that claimed over 300,000 lives.

Mr. Rwasa’s party, Palipehutu – party for the liberation of Hutus was initially banned for being a party based on ethnic affiliation. The party however changed its name to ‘National Liberation Forces’ (FNL).

Mr. Rwasa who was chosen by the party officials as their candidate only surrendered his arms to African Union troops in April. The peace process witnessed about 20,000 FNL rebels disarmed and reintegrated into the Burundi security forces.

Ex-rebel Pierre Nkurunziza was elected president in 2005 under a deal to end years of conflict between the Tutsi army and Hutu rebels. The Burundi nation and the FNL signed a peace agreement in 2006 that ended a decade of ethnic war, but deal broke down after the government rejected rebel demands for power-sharing. Tensions remained high until the South African mediated peace process of 2009.

Mr. Rwasa was on exile in Tanzania and returned to Burundi after the peace agreement in April. His return was widely welcomed in Burundi. Mr. Rwasa was convoyed by South Africa’s Security Minister Charles Nqakula, who has been the chief mediator in talks between the rebel group and the government. Stability appears to be within reach after years of bloody conflict.

“The time has come when we have to look forward and build peace and stability for all the sons and daughters of this nation,” Mr. Rwasa was quoted on his return to Burundi.

In April, more than 100 people were killed and some 40,000 people displaced when renewed fighting broke briefly. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations, and since independence in 1961, it has been plagued by tensions between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.

The ethnic violence that emerged in 1994 made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most difficult conflicts. Analysts say the country is now beginning to reap the dividends of a peace process. But it faces the formidable task of reviving a shattered economy and of forging national unity across the Tutsi-Hutu divide. The relative peace in the country has been attributed partly to international mediation and support.

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