Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (24)

Denis Naughten


164 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the political situation in Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25226/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Despite difficulties, there has overall been significant political progress in Burundi since the signing of the Arusha peace accord in August 2000. That accord provided for a three year transition period to end on 31 October 2004 by which time national elections were due to be held. However, this three-year transition period is likely to be extended due to disagreements on the new draft constitution and the power sharing arrangements which were to be operative in the post-transition period.

The position is that an agreement on power sharing for the post-transition period was concluded in Pretoria on 6 August 2004 and endorsed by a regional summit. While it is accepted by 20 of Burundi's political parties, the remaining ten, predominantly Tutsi, parties reject it. These Tutsi parties also object to certain provisions of the draft constitution. They and the Tutsi vice-president began a boycott of Government meetings on 3 September.

In the event, the draft constitution was approved by the national assembly on 18 September, but 60 Tutsi members of the assembly boycotted the proceedings. A referendum to approve the constitution is planned for November, which will be observed by the EU.

Preparations for the holding of elections are also proceeding assisted by the UN mission in Burundi, ONUB. Local and legislative elections are now planned for March 2005 followed by presidential elections in April 2005. The European Union is committed to supporting the electoral process in Burundi, including through the provision of financial assistance and is expected to send an observation mission.

Only one, mainly Hutu, armed group, the FNL, remains outside the peace process. Its position has become increasingly marginalised following a massacre at Gatumba refugee camp on 13 August 2004 when 160 Congolese Banyamulenge — Tutsi — refugees were murdered. An investigation into the massacre, which was claimed by the FNL, is being conducted by the United Nations. Tensions between Burundi and the DRC rose following the massacre and border crossings on both sides were closed temporarily.

Following the massacre, countries in the region declared the FNL a terrorist organisation and requested the UN and African Union to take appropriate action against it. Burundi has in addition issued international arrest warrants for the FNL leaders. The FNL continues to mount military operations in the Bujumbura Rurale area which result in widespread casualties and destruction of property. The EU has consistently called for a comprehensive ceasefire and has urged the FNL to abandon its military campaign and commit fully to the peace process.

Ireland, as EU Presidency, remained very closely engaged with the Burundian peace process. In April 2004, my predecessor met the President and the Foreign Minister during a visit to Burundi, and again met the President in September at the United Nations. During these meetings, the Minister reiterated Ireland's and the EU's full support for the current peace efforts and willingness to extend whatever assistance we can to further this process. He also urged progress in implementing all the provisions of the Arusha peace accord, including those relating to tackling impunity and safeguarding human rights. He urged Burundi to ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court, since this would offer an assurance of justice to all those who have suffered human rights abuses during the latter years of the conflict. The President responded that his Government is considering ratification.

It is critically important that over the coming months, all sides in Burundi refrain from any actions that might create tension or lead to violence, proceed swiftly with the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and bring about a rapid end to hostilities.