afrol News, 7 September - The last Burundian active rebel group, a faction of the National Liberation Forces (FNL), this afternoon signed a comprehensive peace deal with the Bujumbura government at a ceremony in neighbouring Tanzania. Burundians thus hope 13 years of civil war have finally come to an end.
The South African-mediated ceasefire threatened to collapse until the last moment and Pretoria's mediator, Security Minister Charles Nqakula, still had to overcome the FNL's last reservations yesterday.
Today, however, South African President Thabo Mbeki rapidly was flown in to Dar-es-Salaam to oversee the ceremony. In the Tanzanian capital, he was joined by his counterparts from Uganda and Tanzania Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Jakaya Kikwete. The ceasefire agreement was signed by Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza and FNL leader Agathon Rwasa.
The reasons for such a high-profiled ceremony are to be found in the large efforts by East African neighbours and the Mbeki government to include the Paliphehutu-FNL rebel group in Burundi's otherwise ample peace arrangements. Most other Burundian rebel factions already in 2000 signed a power sharing agreement that led to a limited peace and a political transition.
During the political transition, where the country's Hutu majority gradually has been given more powers, progress became increasingly threatened by te FNL's continued warfare, which even destabilised the suburbs of Bujumbura. Since late 2003, the Hutu nationalists of Paliphehutu-FNL have been the only Burundian faction not to sign a peace deal.
The South African government has during the last six years sent top officials of high prestige to mediate in the Burundian conflict. The first high level mediator was ex-President Nelson Mandela, who has been followed by two Foreign Ministers. The last intensive five-month negotiations between the government and the FNL rebels were led by Minister Nqakula.
Details of the ceasefire agreement have not been revealed by Burundian or South African authorities. The mediators have however indicated that the demobilisation of FNL's estimated 1,500 to 3,000 fighters and their integration into national security sources have been among the most difficult points in the negotiations. By experience, demobilisation and reintegration also becomes the most complicated issue when peace deals are to be implemented.
Today, however, the agreement was celebrated as a "historic" event by its protagonists. A South African Foreign Affairs spokesman said "the signing of the agreement will herald a new dawn in the history of Burundi." President Nkurunziza called the FNL rebels "our brothers and sisters," while rebel leader Rwasa praised the agreement as "a decisive moment" for Burundi.
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