AFRICA/BURUNDI - Elections postponed? So far only rumours possibly to see the reaction of the international community

Thursday, 4 March 2004

Bujumbura (Fides Service)- “So far there is nothing official. The date of the elections has not been altered” local Church sources in Burundi told Fides after the Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye said that presidential elections scheduled for October this year could be postponed. “He might have wanted to see how the international community, committed to supporting the peace process, would react to the postponement of the elections” local sources told Fides. “It should be remembered that the election date was set during peace talks mediated and supported by a number of African countries and the European Union. Any postponement of the vote might provoke a negative reaction from the international community and block funds granted to help Burundi exit from the serious political and economic crisis caused by more than 10 years of war”.
On March 1, during a meeting of Burundi’s political parties and representatives of the former rebel group FDD (Force for Defence of Democracy), President Ndayizeye said the elections would have to be avoided due to delays in the new population census. To complicate matters, hundreds of thousands of refugees are returning from Tanzania and other neighbouring countries and this makes the population count even more difficult.
“The return of the refugees is not a happy one” say Fides’ sources. “They leave relatively well organised camps in Tanzania only to move into other camps Burundi, because there is no money to rebuild villages destroyed in the war”. The Burundian government adopted an anti-guerrilla strategy which entails grouping people in fortified villages defended by the army to prevent the guerrillas from obtaining help from people in rural areas.
Speaking to foreign media in February this year, Burundian foreign minister Therence Sinunguruza, voiced doubts with regard to elections in Burundi (see Fides 19 February 2004).
Since 1993, rebel groups of ethnic majority Hutus have fought the regular army, formed mainly of minority ethnic group Tutsi in a civil war in which at least 300,000 have been killed. In 2000 a political agreement was reached in Arusha (Tanzania) form an interim government which includes most of the political parties but not the rebels. Only a more recent agreement signed in Dar es Salaam in 2003 finally opened the path to peace.
In October 2003 in Pretoria (South Africa) in the presence of South African President Thabo Mbeki, Burundian president Domitien Ndayizeye and FDD leader Pierre Nkurunziza signed an agreement to end hostilities and the rebels obtain the vice presidency, four ministries and 40% of army officer posts and 35% police officer posts. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 4/3/2004 righe 42 parole 513)