Friday, 12 December 2003

Bujumbura (Fides Service)- “As we prepare for Christmas we are thinking above all of the thousands of refugees who are coming back from Tanzania” a priest in Bururi diocese, in Burundi, told Fides. The priest, whom we prefer not name for security reasons, was referring to part of the one million Burundian refugees who fled to Tanzania during the civil war. Now that the main rebel group Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) has signed a peace agreement with the government many of these refugees are on their way back. “The government has set up a camp for the returnees who are homeless” the priest said. “The local Church has organised assistance for the refugees in the camp and encouraged local people to show them solidarity” the priest said.
In this area the other rebel group National Liberation Force (FNL) is still active. “Last night the rebels attacked in various parts of the diocese. But we continue to hope for peace. The fact that the refugees are coming back is an act of hope in peace. In preparation for Christmas the local priests, religious and catechists are intensifying their work of education to peace and reconciliation, going from village to village and parish to parish to try to convince the people that dialogue is the only path to solve the country’s problems.”
The agreement between the Burundian government and the FDD was signed on 16 November in Dar es Salaam, capital of Tanzania (see Fides 18 November 2003) and on the basis of that pact on 23 November Burundi’s President Domitien Ndayizeye appointed four FDD members to ministerial posts. The agreement stipulated immediate cessation of hostilities and for the FDD rebels the vice-presidency, four ministries, 40% army officer posts and 35% police army posts.
The peace pact in Burundi is important also for neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo where the Burundian rebels have their rear camps. According to Reuters, in the east of the DRC at least 200 members of the FDD laid down their arms and returned to Burundi. (L.M.) (Fides Service 12/12/2003, lines 31 words 399)