Burundi is successfully following its long peace process after decades of sporadic conflict, but a rebel hold-out around the capital is causing donors to be wary of providing humanitarian support or investment funds, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for that African Great Lakes country said today.
"Without sounding overly positive, because one always has to be cautious in a post-conflict situation, my own assessment is that Burundi is well on track in its very long, ongoing peace process," Carolyn McAskie told journalists at UN Headquarters in New York.
Burundi desperately needs development investments and humanitarian support, Ms. McAskie said. She noted, however, that after pledging some $1 billion as rebel groups joined the political process, donors have been put off by the Paliphetu-FNL rebels in the hills around the capital who have created a situation where "you can't get out of Bujumbura without an armed escort."
While the Paliphetu-FNL's capacity had been reduced, they were getting "fed and watered" in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and had been so isolated that they had developed unrealistic expectations about what they could get from an international peace process, she said.
To catch up with the rest of the country now, she said, they first would have to "make a statement of regret about the Gatumba massacre" of more than 160 Banyamulenge, or Congolese Tutsi, refugees in Burundi last August, for which they had claimed responsibility.
Their claim had led the Great Lakes region's leaders to declare them a terrorist group, Ms. McAskie said. Burundi's army needed to be in its barracks working on disarmament and demobilization of former militia fighters, instead of being deployed against the rebels, she added.
The country, now among the poorest three countries in the world, was not a failed state since it had functioning political structures, but it was a textbook case of conflict driving down development by destroying educational institutions, stimulating a brain drain and causing a total lack of capacity, she said.
On the refugee repatriation situation, Ms. McAskie said tens of thousands of people were returning to Burundi who had left the densely populated country during crises 10 to 15 years ago and an unknown number had been refugees in Tanzania for 30 years and might even have been born there.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had received $300,000 from the Fund for International Development of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to help resettle 4,000 Burundian families who had returned to the famine-stricken north-eastern provinces of Muyinga and Kirundo.
The World Bank, meanwhile, approved a $20 million grant to the six Member States of the Great Lakes Initiative on HIV/AIDS (GLIA) to fund innovative, cross-regional prevention and treatment programmes.
UNHCR was to receive $5 million of the Bank funds for its work with refugees and returnees in the six countries.
"Too often, refugees and returnees who move across borders are seen by both countries as 'not our problem', and the epidemic is allowed to continue," Dr. Paul Spiegel, UNHCR's expert on HIV and AIDS, said. "These funds will help us tackle the problem from a cross-border perspective and make sure that people uprooted by conflict don't fall through the cracks."