Burundi church leaders and ex-president seek negotiations with rebels

By agency reporter
January 31, 2008

Christian leaders in Burundi have called on a church-sponsored group led by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano to reach out to the rebel Palipehutu-Forces for National Liberation (FNL), the last remaining insurgent group in the Central African country.

"We urge you to help in peace negotiations with the FNL, because we are not in touch with the FNL," Burundi Anglican Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi told the group on 29 January 2008 after its arrival in Bujumbura. "We have said that truth and reconciliation is our mission."

The FNL's continuing insurgency is seen as the final barrier for lasting stability in the central African nation, where more than 300,000 people are reported to have died as a result of more than a decade of conflict, much of it ascribed to ethnic differences.

Since independence from Belgium in 1961, Burundi has seen tension between the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority. The Tutsi have been portrayed as having had better access to education and making up a majority of the civil service, justice system and the security forces.

Burundi's first democratically elected president, a Hutu, was assassinated in October 1993 after only 100 days in office, triggering widespread violence between Hutus and Tutsis.

An internationally brokered power-sharing agreement between the Tutsi-dominated government and Hutu rebels in 2003 paved the way for a transition process and a new constitution, leading to the election of a Hutu-led government in 2005.

The FNL, led by dissident Hutus, signed a peace agreement with the new government in 2006 but pulled out of talks the following year, halting implementation of the peace process. Burundi's church leaders say they hope the Chissano-led delegation can help bring to the FNL to the negotiating table.

"As you come here to show solidarity, ask our people to seek dialogue to see peace," Methodist Bishop Elise Buconyori told the delegation. He described the situation in Burundi as being very fragile. "We urge to you influence the FNL so that they can seek true peace through dialogue," he said.

Chissano is leading a delegation of representatives of the World Council of Churches, the All Africa Conference of Churches and the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa, each representing a large global or regional Christian grouping.

He told reporters he would deliver a "message of peace, unity, fraternity and encouragement to the people of Burundi who are trying hard to break free of more than a decade of civil war," which has also spilled over into neighboring countries.

With acknowledgements to the Episcopal News Service, USA

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