Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Burundi: Notorious rebel Forces begin surrendering their weapons

A group of FNL supporters: The demobilisation of thousands of FNL combatants is underway in Burundi - file photo

Agathon Rwasa, leader of Burundi's notorious rebel Forces nationales de liberation (FNL), gave up his AK-47 and military uniforms on 18 April at a ceremony to mark the beginning of the demobilisation of thousands of combatants; FNL is due to become a political party soon.

"My demobilisation officially means the end of the war in Burundi; it is a sign that the country's peace process is progressing," Rwasa said at an assembly site in Rubira in the eastern province of Bubanza.

Rwasa, who had held the rank of lieutenant-general in the FNL, also met his commanders to brief them on the implementation of a ceasefire accord the FNL signed with the Burundian government in 2006.

According to a timetable issued on 17 April by a taskforce set up by the South African mediation team to speed up the implementation the accords between the FNL and the government, at least 3,500 FNL combatants will be integrated into the National Defence and Security Forces - 2,100 in the army and 1,400 in the police.

"Mid-May should be the end of integration," Lt-Gen Derrick Nguebi, the taskforce leader said at a press conference.

Drawn up at a meeting of the taskforce in mid-April 2009 in Pretoria, the timetable set 21 April as the day of disarmament of FNL combatants in their assembly zones. This is the date the FNL is also scheduled to be transformed into a political party.

“Harmonisation training”

Nguebi said FNL commanders were currently separating the combatants to be integrated into the security forces from those who will return to civilian life upon receiving a US$80 "return" package.

On 22 April combatants selected to join the Forces de défence nationales (FDN) and the police will begin “harmonisation training” before their integration, Nguebi said.

The taskforce has also recommended the setting up of a unit comprising 390 personnel selected from the FNL and the army, to replace the African Union (AU) force, which is scheduled to leave the country in October. The AU had sent South African troops to Burundi to help the country's transitional process from civil war to democracy.

Two demobilisation centres, at Rubira and Randa, both in Bubanza Province, have been selected to host 5,000 FNL combatants whose demobilisation should be completed by 30 June, according to the taskforce.

Nguebi said some 11,000 combatants, 1,000 of whom are female, will return to their communities of origin, while 300 children, who had been in the rebel ranks, had been taken to a demobilisation centre in the central province of Gitega where they are being prepared, with the support of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), for their return to their families.

The taskforce has also urged the government to release all FNL prisoners by 15 May.

Regarding some 33 posts the government had pledged would be filled by the FNL, Nguebi said President Pierre Nkurunziza and Rwasa had set up a team which was working on modalities for the appointments.


Taskforce leader Nguebi said he was "confident that the timetable would be achieved though it embodies complex tasks".

"Rwasa's demobilisation means there is light at the end of the tunnel," he said, calling on the government to "be flexible" to allow the timetable to be implemented.

He added: "Now the next fight in Burundi is a struggle against hunger and starvation. If Burundi is stable, the region and the [African] continent will be improving in security and development."

Pledging that FNL would henceforth "work publicly and in full transparency", Rwasa said all Burundians would now focus on their daily activities instead of war. He urged FNL combatants returning to civilian life to exercise restraint in any difficult circumstances they could find themselves in.

Jonas Nshimirimana, the FNL representative in the demobilisation taskforce, said those not integrated into the security forces would still have the possibility of working for the FNL in a political capacity, when the group becomes a political party.

Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye, the government's representative in the taskforce, said the demobilisation of the FNL combatants showed Burundi was on an "irreversible path" towards peace.

"We trust the process will succeed, given the commitment of those leading the mediation," Ndayishimiye said. "The government is ready to translate into action all that has been requested of it."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits