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March 31, 2003
South African Press Association (Johannesburg)

Mosiuoa Lekota
Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota was scheduled to leave the country for Ethiopia on Monday night to hear a report by a technical committee studying the deployment of a peacekeeping force to war-ravaged Burundi, his spokesman said.

Sam Mkhwanazi said the technical committee, headed by Major General Jan Lusse of the SA National Defence Force's Joint Operations Division, would brief Lekota and the defence ministers of the two other troop contributing countries, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Lusse's team had been briefed to determine the peacekeeping force's task and force level, the defence concept for the deployment as well as the sustainment of the operation and possible assembly points for the demobilisation, reintegration and disarmament of the warring factions.

Lusse earlier this month told Parliament that the African Union (AU) mission to implement a series of cease-fire agreements and political settlements in Burundi was expected to take about three years.

South Africa would send 514 troops, Ethiopia 900 and Mozambique 200, but details and time frames were still to be finalised.

The mission commander will be South African Major General Sipho Binda.

The peacekeepers will join a group of 43 AU military observers already in the country. The observers were from Gabon, Togo, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Mali.

Mkhwanazi said should Lekota, and his Mozambican and Ethiopian counterparts accept the report, they would then brief their respective heads of government.

The African Commission, an AU organ, would then issue the force with a deployment mandate, after which troop deployments would begin.

Altogether 751 SANDF members are already deployed in Burundi, mainly in Bujumbura and surrounds, in a separate UN-endorsed VIP protection operation in support of the transitional government.

The mission, code-named Operation Fibre, was launched on November 1, 2001, and the soldiers are tasked with protecting about 78 Burundian political leaders who have returned from exile.

The SANDF team includes VIP protectors, guards, and medical and other support staff.

Meanwhile expectations remained high in Burundi that the force will deploy quickly.

Burundi vice president Domitien Ndayizeye said at the weekend that a South African peace mediator had assured him the peacekeepers would begin deploying this week.

The force was meant to have deployed last year already.

Deputy President Jacob Zuma, a Burundi mediator, on Saturday witnessed that country's two main political parties signing a political and security agreement in Pretoria.

The security pact was signed in Pretoria by Alphonse Kadege, president of the Tutsi-dominated Unity for National Progress, and Ndayizeye, who is also president of the Hutu-dominated Burundi Democratic Front.

Ndayizeye, a Hutu, is due to take over as president from Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, on May 1 in a transition designed to end an ethnic civil war which has claimed more than 250,000 lives since October 1993.

Maintaining the various ceasefires have proved to be problematic.

The mainly Tutsi Burundian army claims it was difficult to distinguish rebels bound by the agreements from fighters refusing to lay down arms.

Rebels, in turn, have accused the army of reckless shelling.

As a result, reports of ceasefire violations and continued fighting are common, while the death toll mounts.

Rebel Group Ready to Enter Dialogue
3/12/2002 3:07 PM

The rebel group Parti pour la libération du peuple hutu-Forces nationales de libération (PALIPEHUTU-FNL) has expressed readiness to participate in a dialogue under the auspices of the mediators in the search for a lasting solution to the conflict in Burundi, according to a statement from the African Union Secretariat.

The PALIPEHUTU-FNL delegation to the AU headquarters in the Addis Ababa, comprising Vice-President Jean-Bosco Sindayigaya, and senior officials Alain Mugabarabona and Freddy Minani, presented the group's position on the conflict in Burundi and the peace process, the statement said. The delegates, who were in Addis Ababa on Thursday and Friday last week at the invitation of OAU Secretary-General Amara Essy, had submitted "some proposals" to the organisation, it added.

During their stay, the delegates held in-depth discussions with representatives of the OAU secretariat-general led by the assistant secretary-general in charge of political affairs, followed by a working session in the presence of Gabon's ambassador and representative at the OAU, as well as a representative of the embassy of South Africa in Addis Ababa. The delegation was also received by Essy.

Essy stressed the importance and urgency of dialogue and the need for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, the OAU statement said. Essy and other OAU officials urged the PALIPEHUTU-FNL to join the peace process and the dialogue being conducted under the auspices of President Omar Bongo of Gabon and South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma.