By JOSEPH MWAMUNYANGE
THE BURUNDI government last week called on the world community to exert pressure on members of the rebel Forces for National Liberation (Palipehutu-FNL) based inside Burundi to join the peace process.
The group has claimed responsibility for the massacre of 160 Congolese refugees, most of them women and children, in western Burundi on August 13.
Karenga Ramadhan, the Chief of Protocol of Burundi’s Ministry of State in charge of Good Governance and State Inspection, said:"It is not enough to restrict the movements of members of the Palipehutu-FNL living outside Burundi. The concentration now should be on those at home. They must be pressured into joining the peace process. It is not too late."
He was speaking toThe EastAfrican at an emergency summit meeting of African leaders held in the wake of the massacre in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam last week.
The leaders present at the summit included Tanzania's President Benjamin Mkapa; President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who was accompanied by his deputy Jacob Zuma; Ugandan Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, Mozambique’s President Joachim Chissano, President Joseph Kabila of the DRC, Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa, Burundi’s Domitien Ndayizeye, the special representative of the UN Secretary General in Burundi, Caroline McAskie, and representatives of heads of state of Ethiopia and Rwanda.
The leaders declared the Hutu extremist rebel group a terrorist group for refusing to lay down its arms as the country moves towards elections and decided to restrict the movements of the group’s members. There are reported to be many Palipehutu-FNL members living in Dar es Salaam and Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, but The EastAfrican could not establish by last weekend what action the Tanzania government intended to take on them.
"In light of the recent incidents and refusal of the FNL to desist from violence and to actively join the peace process, the summit resolves to declare the FNL a terrorist organisation," Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete said in a joint communique.
Kikwete said the summit had urged the African Union and the UN Security Council to support their decision and for the relevant UN Security Council conventions and protocols on the combating of terrorism to apply to the FNL.
But the FNL said they were not worried by the terror-tag.
"This is not the first time they have called us terrorists and we don’t care. We are ready to go before an international court," FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana said.
The nearly 3,500-strong FNL is the only group still fighting Burundi’s government, and has repeatedly refused to participate in a peace process that has seen the country’s main Hutu rebel groups join a power-sharing government and national army.
But Mr Ramadhan, who is also the CNDD-FDD spokesman, described the declaration of the FNL as a terrorist organisation as one of the strongest steps that Great Lakes leaders have taken in a long while to help resolve the perennial problems in Burundi.
"Restrictions have been imposed on these people, but we should move forward by dealing with their leaders inside Burundi, who are mostly concentrated in three communes in Bujumbura rural," he said, adding that their support comes from the grassroots in their native domiciles.
He said almost 99 per cent of Burundi was safe, "save for one per cent, which is in the area around Bujumbura. Not all members of the FNL are hardcore warmongers. Only a few are advocating a continued aggressive approach," he added.
Mr Ramadhan said that declaring the FNL a terrorist group signalled that the more radical members of Palipehutu-FNL can be left out of the peace process, which has been delayed by those who argued that the rebels had to be part of the process, even as they continued with their aggressive stance.