Significant strides have been taken in Burundi in implementing its ceasefire accord and laying the foundations for next year’s presidential election, the United Nations top envoy to the impoverished African nation said today.
The Government and the Palipehutu-FNL – the last major rebel hold-outs after the end of the brutal civil war between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority – took a decisive step forward in April when the FNL formally disarmed and registered as a political party, Youssef Mahmoud, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi, told the Security Council.
In addition, he said that 3,500 former combatants for the FNL, which had first signed the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement in 2006 but revised it last year after a fresh outbreak of deadly fighting, integrated into Government forces and the police.
“The FNL’s renunciation of armed struggle is an important development which paves the way for its participation in the democratic process in Burundi,” Mr. Mahmoud, who also heads the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), told the Council in an open meeting.
He noted that almost half of the 11,000 adults associated with the FNL militia have registered and received assistance as part of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process.
Some 340 children, including six girls, who had been separated from the FNL during April, were also reunited with their families, and 24 the group’s leaders had been nominated to senior civil service positions, including ambassadorial posts and governorships.
The head of BINUB said that the political climate in the Great Lakes nation had also seen some improvements in 2009, most notably the establishment of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).
Additionally, with yesterday’s registration with the Government of the Mouvement pour la Solidarité et la Démocratie of Alexis Sinduhije, there are now 43 registered political parties in Burundi, he said.
Despite the improvement in the political climate, Mr. Mahmoud said that concerns remain over the persistent disruption of the activities of opposition political parties – in some cases of violence against their members – by the police, the intelligence service and local officials.
In his most recent report to the Security Council on Burundi, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Government to “treat all political parties equally under Burundian law and to ensure the respect of the right to freedom of expression and assembly.”
In a press statement issued at the end of today’s Council meeting, Ambassador Baki Ilkin of Turkey, which holds the body’s rotating presidency for June, commended the advances in the Burundian peace process, in particular the disarmament of the FNL, its accreditation as a political party and the release of children associated with it.
Mr. Ilkin said that the Council also encouraged the Government and “all political parties and stakeholders to prepare the ground for peaceful, free and fair elections scheduled for 2010 in the spirit of reconciliation and dialogue enshrined in the Burundian Constitution.”