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Situation in Burundi ‘fragile,’ Annan warns as UN troops prepare to leave

Situation in Burundi ‘fragile,’ Annan warns as UN troops prepare to leave

As the United Nations prepares to wind down its peacekeeping operation in Burundi and replace it with an integrated office, Secretary-General Kofi Annan is warning that human rights abuses, political tensions and other “troubling developments” could cause the hard-won peace process there to unravel.

“Despite the progress that has been made during the ONUB (UN peacekeeping operation) mandate, the situation in Burundi is still fragile and major peace consolidation challenges remain,” Mr. Annan writes in a report to the Security Council.

“It is regrettable that the positive momentum created by the signing of the comprehensive ceasefire agreement in September has not been maintained; prolonged delays in the agreement’s implementation could pose risks for long-term stability in the country,” he warns.

While welcoming some progress in the political realm, the report points out that the former transitional President, Domitien Ndayizeye, and Vice-President, Alphonse-Marie Kadege, were still in detention following their arrest in connection with an alleged coup plot.

“While ensuring due process and a fair and transparent trial for those detained in connection with the alleged coup plot, including the former President and Vice-President, the Government should also make every effort to resolve this delicate issue in a genuine spirit of national reconciliation.”

The Secretary-General welcomes recent steps taken by the Government to address some of the concerns of Palipehutu-Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) and urges both parties, but in particular FNL, “to demonstrate the good will needed to ensure that outstanding issues are resolved.” They are also urged to ensure that implementation of the agreement proceeds without delay.

The report warns that “troubling developments over the past several months… if not rectified by the Government could cause the peace process to unravel.”

Mr. Annan voices serious concern about rising tensions between the Government and the media, as well as the continued allegations of serious and widespread human rights abuses committed by the national security forces.

Impunity continued to prevail in Burundi and, despite some arrests, the Government has yet to prosecute the national security forces’ personnel implicated in serious human rights violations, according to the report.

The Secretary-General describes deadly violence with cross-border implications. “Between 19 October and 13 November, the bodies of nine unidentified adult men were found in Lake Tanganyika at the mouth of the Rusizi River. Some of the bodies showed signs of bullet or machete wounds, as well as mutilation. ONUB is seeking to verify the information reportedly provided to the police by an alleged witness, to the effect that the nine victims were killed by FNL combatants based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

In addition, he says sexual violence continued to be widespread and minors, including very young children, constituted some 60 per cent of reported rape cases.

“The Government needs to address these issues urgently in a comprehensive, determined and unequivocal manner, including through demonstrating its commitment to ensuring an inclusive political environment and guaranteeing basic democratic principles, including the right to free speech,” Mr. Annan writes.

“With the departure of ONUB, the Organization intends to continue to help the people of Burundi to address the root causes and immediate consequences of conflict, develop the capacity to sustain peace and create a propitious environment for economic recovery and development,” he says.

The report warns that the success of the follow-on UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) “will ultimately depend on the Government and people of Burundi taking the lead in pressing ahead to consolidate Burundi’s hard-won but fragile peace.”

Like neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi had been ravaged by an ethnic conflict between its Hutu and Tutsi population. Since gaining independence in 1962, the small Central African country had been the victim of violent coups and political instability. The death of some 300,000 people after the first free elections took place in 1993 led to increased international involvement and the establishment of the first UN mission in Burundi three years later.