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Mandela takes Burundi peace deal forward
Nelson Mandela, who is mediating the Burundi peace process, failed to secure an agreement last week, but now says a deal will be signed on August 28.

Nelson Mandela, who is mediating the Burundi peace process, failed to secure an agreement last week, but now says a deal will be signed on August 28.

Delegates at the talks in Arusha, Tanzania, expressed broad acceptance of a draft plan that provides for a weakened presidency, a bicameral parliament and elections in 30 months time. However, they remained deadlocked on who should lead the transition, how and when a ceasefire can be arranged, how the armed forces should be reformed and what electoral process should be used. Mandela says only the first two issues need to be sorted out now, while the others can be settled as the transition
process unfolds. But Burundian President Pierre Buyoya disagrees and says he wants more clarity on election
procedures before he signs a deal. The issue is of great importance to Tutsis, many of whom fear a genocide if the voting system hands too much power to Hutu parties.

Buyoya wants to lead the transition himself but his political foes are opposed to this. Mandela has asked the negotiators to nominate a consensus candidate, but in the poisonous context of Burundian politics, this appears unlikely.

The Burundian government wants a ceasefire before the day of the agreement, but rebel militia say they will negotiate a ceasefire only once certain conditions are met. These include the release of political prisoners. One militia group, the Conseil national pour la d,fense de la d,mocratie-Forces pour la d,fense de la d,mocratie (CNDD- FDD), attended the talks for the first time since they began three years ago. CNDD-FDD leader Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye said he had attended the talks only as a show of good will, but Mandela says he has Ndayinkengurukiye's word that he will sign the August agreement. Cossan Kabura, the leader of the other main rebel group, Parti pour la lib,ration du peuple Hutu- Forces nationales de lib,ration (Palipehutu-FNL), boycotted the talks.

Mandela appears convinced that the FNL is the weaker of the two militia, but a series of attacks near the Tanzanian border and near the capital, Bujumbura, have shown that the FNL remains a force to be reckoned with. FNL attacks in Ruyigi in eastern Burundi last weekend left 50 civilians dead, and FNL rebels attacked the capital again this week. Jan van Eck of the Cape Town-based Centre for Conflict Resolution, who has long been involved in the peace process, says that the FNL's absence from Arusha is understandable as it has been the most alienated from the process.

He believes that more time should be given to bring the FNL into the talks. Many observers agree that the August deadline is too tight and say Mandela's mediation risks being discredited if the peace agreement has to be postponed again.
Some commentators have suggested that Mandela chair a meeting of all the key players to resolve remaining
disagreements and ensure the agreement holds. But Mandela says he has already met with all the players, including Kabura, and that he is confident that a deal will be sealed on August 28.

Moving the talks along so quickly despite the obvious ill- will is a risky strategy because of the likelihood that those left disaffected will create havoc. Mandela is calculating that once a deal is signed, no one will want to be blamed for wrecking it, and that if sufficient aid can be secured for Burundi there may be enough incentives for the politicians to make the deal work. Burundi's long-suffering population, which has endured seven years of civil war, is hoping that this time, for once, it might all work out.