The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will early next year wind up its seven year peacekeeping deployment to Burundi.
SA defence minister Charles Nqakula, in his role as facilitator of the Burundi peace process yesterday told the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that the SANDF deployed there under Operation Curriculum and part of the African Union Special Task Force (AUSTF) will be home by the end of March.
Nqakula told the UNSC that since his last briefing to the body a year ago, “a significant step forward had been taken to resolve differences between the Government of Burundi and Palipehutu-FNL, the only group in the country remaining outside of the democratization process”.
He says the two parties had met at the Great Lakes Summit in Bujumbura, Burundi`s capital, last Thursday and finalised the four matters that had threatened to scuttle the 2006 Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement, including the demand by Palipehutu-FNL that the Burundian Army be disbanded and reformulated.
The Summit had “shot down” that demand, although the party continued to argue for various arrangements that would produce a new army.
He said the Summit had agreed, however, to the Palipehutu-FNL demand for the release of political and war prisoners, and the appointment of its leaders into the organs of State, both of which had previously been agreed by President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has offered 33 positions for senior Palipehutu-FNL members in state institutions.
In order for them to participate in national politics, however, the Summit said the party must change its name, given that “Palipehutu” meant “party for the liberation of the Hutu people” and the inclusion of that term in a political party`s name would contravene the Constitution.
The party is currently informing members about that decision.
Also agreed at the Summit, as part of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, reporting to assembly areas by Palipehutu-FNL combatants would begin today and be completed by 31 December.
After many years of distrust between the parties and relapses into violence, the situation in the country was now calm, he said, adding that the facilitation had been instructed by the Great Lakes Regional Initiative to implement the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement fully by 31 December.
“The period from 1 to 31 January will be used as a ‘mop-up” phase`,” Nqakula said according to a UNSC transcript of the briefing. The facilitation team will scale down its operations and the AUSTF will “begin its withdrawal, which should be completed by the end of March, when the facilitation will also close down.”
Meanwhile, Busi Ngwenya, wife of SANDF chief General Godfrey Ngwenya has handed out Christmas goodwill parcels at the main SA facility in Burundi, Camp Modderfontein.
The UN News Centre reports that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remains concerned about the situation in Burundi.
He said he regretted that although Burundi has made commendable advances in key areas for peace consolidation and “despite internal efforts and external support, the parties have not yet been able to muster the political will to overcome their differences and look to the future for the benefit of their country.”
As a result he recommended a 12-month extension to the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) in his latest report on that body`s activities.
Ban welcomed the end of hostilities between the government and the Palipehutu-FNL but said stressed that the parties had yet to overcome some differences.
Among other concerns, Ban cited the increasing number of arrests of members of the political opposition and representatives of civil society and the media in recent days. “I call on the authorities to allow peaceful assemblies, to desist from detaining persons for expressing their beliefs or opinions and to guarantee due process and fair judicial review for all detainees,” he said.
Human rights violations continue to be of serious concern, but he commended the government`s recent steps towards fighting impunity, noting the conviction of suspects and the forthcoming prosecution of others involved in massacres.
He also voiced concern at the high incidence of sexual violence. “I urge the Government to spare no efforts to address this issue, including through new legislation, fighting against impunity in sexual violence cases and improving legal and social support for victims of sexual violence,” he said.
While noting that the overall security situation had registered some improvement, he added that the general population still faces widespread criminality.
Burundi was one of the first two countries, along with Sierra Leone, to receive support from the UN Peacebuilding Commission, which was established in 2005 to help post-conflict countries determine the priority areas for rebuilding out of the vast array of challenges they face.
Noting that the Commission`s engagement, along with the Peacebuilding Fund, had provided valuable support to the promotion of peace, Ban pledged that BINUB would continue to assist the government to enact sector-wide security reforms and complete the disarmament, demobilization and sustainable reintegration of former combatants into national life.