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Burundi faces hurdles despite progress, Security Council told

Burundi faces hurdles despite progress, Security Council told

Although the Burundian Government has made positive steps to consolidate peace, the small Central African nation still faces considerable obstacles, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned in a new report made discussed by the Security Council today.

In his first report to the 15-member body on the work of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) since it replaced the peacekeeping operation in the country at the end of last year, Mr. Ban wrote that the Government led by President Pierre Nkurunziza has made significant strides since the beginning of the year.

“The improvement in relations with the media and civil society, the commitment to improve the human rights situation and fight corruption and the pledge of the ruling party’s new leadership to work in an inclusive and cooperative spirit with all political parties are welcome developments,” he said in the report.

Mr. Ban also urged the Government to tackle challenges to peace in a transparent manner within the framework of the law, and called on it to engage political parties and other groups in an inclusive dialogue.

He also commended the authorities’ participation with the UN Peacebuilding Commission, which was established to help countries recovering from war avoid a relapse of violence. Burundi and Sierra Leone are the first two countries chosen by the Commission, established in December 2005.

However, the country, which suffered decades of ethnic conflict pitting the Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority, still faces enormous challenges.

In particular, Burundi, which has been the victim of violent coups and political instability since gaining independence in 1962, has yet to implement last September’s ceasefire agreement between the Government and the country’s last major rebel group, the Palipehutu-National Liberation Forces (Palipehutu-FNL).

“It is essential that this final phase of the peace process be successfully concluded without delay so that all Burundians can focus on the urgent national reconciliation and reconstruction tasks that lie ahead,” Mr. Ban noted. “The genuine goodwill of all concerned will be required to bring this about.”

He commended the Government’s willingness to accommodate the FNL’s demands to move the peace process forward, and appealed to the rebel group to comply with its obligations.

Although external partners – including the South African facilitation of the process and the African Union (AU) – have been key in pushing the process ahead, “the onus clearly remains on the Burundian parties to ensure that their efforts to consolidate peace are not wasted, international engagement will remain essential in order to bring closure to the recovery and peace consolidation phase,” the Secretary-General observed.

He also encouraged the Government to reach an agreement with the UN to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as a Special Tribunal.

“Durable peace will also depend on how Burundians reconcile themselves with the consequences of their tragic past and forge a shared future,” he stated.

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 the country three years later. The mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Burundi, known as ONUB, expired on 31 December 2006, and was replaced by BINUB on 1 January.

In a related development, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is in Burundi on the second leg of her mission to Central Africa.

Today, she met with the country’s two vice-presidents and the ministers for human rights, justice and foreign affairs. In her meetings with authorities, she discussed transitional justice, including the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Special Tribunal, the current state of human rights in Burundi and the importance of accountability and transparency.

The High Commissioner is scheduled to meet with civil society representatives tomorrow and the country’s President on Wednesday before travelling to Rwanda, where she will wrap up her mission.