As more than 2,000 troops from the African Mission in Burundi (AMIB) troops were "re-hatted" today as United Nations forces, Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the continent's leadership in laying a solid foundation for the peace process.
At a ceremony in the capital, Bujumbura, AMIB chief Ambassador Mamadou Bah handed over command of the African troops safeguarding the peace after an 11-year civil war to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Berhanu Dinka.
In a statement released by his spokesman in New York, the Secretary-General voiced appreciation for the AMIB contingents and welcomed the fact that they will participate in the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) along with additional contingents from other countries.
The Burundian people "must now accelerate their efforts and work closely together to address urgent priorities such as preparations for the elections, the disarmament and demobilization of combatants and the reform of the security sector," he said.
The Secretary-General repeated his hope that FNL (Rwasa), a faction led by Agathon Rwasa, would use the opportunity to join the peace process "in the interest of the long-suffering people of Burundi."
The 2,612 AMIB troops from Ethiopia, Mozambique and South Africa formed the first contingent of a UN force that will number 5,650 military personnel, including 200 military observers and 120 civilian police, and up to 1,000 national and international civilian staff.
By mid-June the other contingents are slated to arrive from other countries, notably Pakistan and Nepal. The Security Council created UNOB, with an initial mandate of six months, by a resolution it approved on 21 May. It is headed by UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie.