- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

BUJUMBURA, Burundi — A former Hutu rebel leader took the presidential oath yesterday with Burundians looking to him to seal a peace after 12 years of civil war and lead the central African nation toward prosperity.

Pierre Nkurunziza was elected by parliament last week following a four-year transitional government set up to end a war that began when paratroopers killed the first democratically elected president, a Hutu, in 1993. Mr. Nkurunziza’s Forces for the Defense of Democracy was once the largest Hutu rebel group fighting the former Tutsi-dominated government.

“I swear that I will stand for peace, tranquility and development for all. I will fight against all genocidal ideology and all lies,” said Mr. Nkurunziza, 40, holding the constitution in one hand and flags representing the nation and ethnic unity in the other.

Another rebel group, the National Liberation Force, did not take part in the peace process and has continued to fight, mostly in the rural areas around the capital, Bujumbura. Persuading that group to join his government will be Mr. Nkurunziza’s top priority.

“I hope he will bring back peace quickly and help us overcome poverty,” Fatuma Siniremera, a 56-year-old Nkurunziza supporter, said during a rally Thursday.

But some Tutsis, who accused Mr. Nkurunziza during the war of plotting genocide against them, remain skeptical. Burundi’s Tutsi minority had long dominated politics and the economy in this former Belgian colony.

Mr. Nkurunziza is the son of a Hutu lawmaker and a nurse from the Tutsi minority. He saw Tutsi soldiers kill his father during ethnic violence in 1972.

“I am very pessimistic about whether he will change anything,” Dieudonne Hakizimana said, adding that he feared that the new government could split.

Mr. Nkurunziza, a university physical education instructor and soccer coach before taking up arms, emerged as president after a long and at times uncertain process brokered by neighboring countries, South African mediators and the international community.

“The moment we have all been working for and waiting for, the ushering in of a new democratic dispensation in Burundi, has finally arrived,” said South Africa’s former Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who helped mediate the peace process.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said his government was ready to assist in Burundi’s reconstruction.

As part of the peace deal, Burundian voters in March were presented with a constitution guaranteeing majority rule and minority rights. Under the constitution, all political parties must have both Hutu and Tutsi members.

The constitution was adopted overwhelmingly, and voters then chose local officials and the lower house of parliament. In the next step, local government representatives were the main electors for the 41-member upper house of parliament, and both houses of parliament chose the president.

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