- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

BUJUMBURA, Burundi — East African leaders will meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, this weekend in an attempt to restart cease-fire talks in Burundi, where nearly 200 people have been killed in the past two weeks.

Rebels from the Front for National Liberation (FNL), apparently with supplies from the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), last week rained artillery down on the capital of Bujumbura, but were beaten back by the army.

Now, regional heads of state — Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania — and the mediator in the conflict, South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, are trying to resuscitate negotiations at tomorrow’s talks.

“[The rebels] must come to the table and be part of the process,” Mr. Zuma told reporters during a visit to Bujumbura.

Earlier this week in Kampala, Mr. Museveni warned that leaders might try to impose a “military solution” on Burundi.

Burundi’s vicious civil war began in 1993 when the Tutsi-dominated army assassinated the nation’s first Hutu president, and the Maryland-sized country spiraled downward into ethnic violence on both sides that the United Nations estimates has taken 300,000 lives.

At first, an array of Hutu groups fought a guerrilla war in Burundi’s hills. But several Hutu and Tutsi political parties have signed a peace deal, and two small Hutu militias have ceased hostilities.

But now, the rebellion looks less like a righteous quest for justice, and more like a naked struggle for power in which the most serious conflict is among the majority Hutus.

“It used to be a war between Hutus and Tutsis,” said Jean-Pierre Niyongabo, a Tutsi brewery manager whose house was hit by a mortar. “But now it’s a war of interests. Egoistical interests.”

The country passed a milestone on May 1, when the former Tutsi president, Pierre Buyoya, followed the peace agreement and ceded power to Domitien Ndayizeye, his Hutu deputy. Mr. Ndayizeye now works most closely with Mr. Buyoya’s party to end Burundi’s agony.

The small FNL, led by a shadowy hill-dwelling 35-year-old named Agathon Rwasa, refuses to deal with Mr. Ndayizeye and wants direct talks with the army and businessmen, who Mr. Rwasa believes hold the key to political power.

The much-larger FDD, headed by Pierre Nkurunziza, cuts an altogether different figure. With a multilingual Internet site and a pan-African fund-raising network, the group has bounced from peace-loving to war-fighting in the past year.

Now, conflict between the Hutu FDD and Frodebu, the party of the Hutu president, has become a war within a war that employs words and guns.

The FDD signed a cease-fire in December, which both the rebels and the army soon violated. But early this month it also blitzed special encampments created by the Ndayizeye government to demobilize other rebels because the step threatened to expose the FDD as the main belligerent group.

Most Burundians believe the FDD’s real goal is to displace Frodebu as the main Hutu group and then renegotiate the peace settlement. The FDD has also assassinated dozens of Frodebu officials who live in the lawless areas outside the capital, human rights monitors report, but the president refuses to budge.

“There is no alternative to have real dialogue and apply the [peace] agreement,” said Mr. Ndayizeye, who gets high marks from Western diplomats for trying to create a durable peace.

As violence continues, Burundi’s civilians have suffered immensely. This time last year, 11 of Burundi’s 17 provinces were quiet enough that U.N. officials believed development aid could begin replacing emergency relief. Now, all but one remote area of the country is subject to regular clashes.

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