Church warning about rising tide of conflict in Burundi

By Ecumenical News International
October 2, 2007

An African regional Christian grouping has warned that Burundi could slide into renewed fighting as a result of tensions within the ruling party and the presence of the rebel Forces for National Liberation, which itself is divided and has refused to sign a peace agreement - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"There are huge differences in almost every sector in the country. The cabinet remains dissolved such that it cannot pass any bills. The people are disillusioned," said the Rev. Fred Nyabera of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa.

Speaking to Ecumenical News International on 25 September 2007, after leading a team of church leaders from different denominations to Burundi from 20-22 September, Nyabera said the lack of functioning government structures was throwing the tiny east African country into crisis. The situation had worsened, he said, due to general disorder and allegations of widespread corruption.

"Church leaders are keen to have parties re-start dialogue. They have been urging them to exercise restraint. They are eager to have the people reconcile," said Nyabera.

For 13 years, the central African nation of Burundi was locked in a conflict between its majority Hutu and Tutsi minority ethnic groups until a peace agreement was hammered out in 2005, along with a national constitution for the country. Pierre Nkurunziza, a Pentecostal Christian, was then elected as president.

But the FNL refused to sign the peace agreement, and this led to further peace talks between Nkurunziza and the FNL.

Following the current crisis in the country, the international community’s promised support for Burundi has dried up, further increasing the risk of escalating conflict. Schools, closed during the war years, are yet to re-open since the 2005 peace accord.

Nyabera told ENI that in November 2007, the regional church grouping hopes to send an ecumenical team of eminent persons to try to re-energise the peace process in Burundi.

The United Nations has urged the Burundi government to resolve the current governance crisis, and has also demanded that the rebel FNL resumes efforts to help stabilise the fragile peace. Some human rights organizations say more than 300,000 people are believed to have died in the Burundi war.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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