The peace process in Burundi is showing encouraging signs of progress, but United Nations support will be essential to its ultimate success, a key negotiator told the Security Council today.
Deputy President Jacob Zuma of South Africa told the Council in an open briefing that earlier this year, "there was every reason to have mixed feelings about the Burundi peace process," noting that the armed movements and the Transitional Government were "far from finding common ground."
Thanks in part to the Security Council's direct call for the armed groups to participate in the ceasefire talks and its "invaluable" leadership, there now existed "a climate of optimism and hope," Mr. Zuma said. Only two days ago, President Pierre Buyoya had signed a ceasefire agreement along with a representative of the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and elements of the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People-National Liberation Forces (PALIPEHUTU-FNL).
International donors, meanwhile, had pledged $440 million in aid to Burundi, subject to the conclusion of the ceasefire agreement, the Deputy President said. "Serious and challenging work of implementing the agreement has now begun," he added, noting that the parties had held a number of meetings to "unpack the details on various implementation issues."
Under the terms of the agreement, combatants should commence their movements towards assembly areas by 30 December. The accord also provides for the establishment of an African-led mission to verify and control the ceasefire.
"The implementation process is a difficult and involved one that requires the strong support of the international community, especially the United Nations," Mr. Zuma said, appealing for understanding that "given the nature of the conflict, we are never going to have a straightforward and practical ceasefire agreement" since there were various belligerent parties in Burundi with divergent demands requiring attention.
The introduction of the African mission should serve as a "bridging instrument opening up for the UN to come in" when conditions permit, Mr. Zuma added. The world body would also be asked to provide humanitarian assistance and help in integrating former combatants into society. "The role of the United Nations will be very critical in making this mission a success," he stressed.
Speaking to reporters following the Council meeting, which included an extended discussion on the situation in Burundi, Mr. Zuma was asked whether he was seeking to send UN troops to the country. The African mission, he replied, would be "clearing the way, and therefore trying to bring about a situation that the UN will find no difficulty in coming in full force."