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    UNIS/SC/1159
            15 November 1999
    Burundi Situation `Precarious', Steps Needed to Strengthen Peace Process
    Security Council Told during Day-long Debate on Crisis

     

    NEW YORK, 12 November (UN Headquarters) -- The situation in Burundi was precarious and the United Nations must take steps to see that the Arusha peace process continued, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahima Fall told the Security Council this morning, as it began a day-long open debate on the crisis in Burundi.
     
     The survival of Burundi's political partnership was threatened, he continued.  Positions had hardened, and opposing camps approached the Arusha partnership differently.  They were no longer on the same wavelength with respect to the guidelines of the process.  This in turn might impact the next round of the negotiations and defer further the final signing of a possible Arusha agreement.  
     
     Continuing, he said the health situation was one of the worst on the continent:  20 per cent of the children suffered from malnutrition; 35,000 were orphaned because of AIDS, and many children were not attending primary school.  He drew attention to the dangers of a potential famine due to drought and the difficulties of getting to the land.  The uncertain security situation must be remedied so that humanitarian personnel could bring help to the people of Burundi, he emphasized. 

     The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said his Government had no interest in supporting armed attacks against Burundi or harbouring, training or arming its opponents.  He rejected all such allegations and challenged the Burundi authorities to provide proof of its allegations.  His country was determined to honour its international obligations relating to the hosting of refugees and, together with the region, to strive for peace in Burundi.  "Their peace is also our peace", he said. 

     Canada's representative said the continuing violence and instability in Burundi had had dramatic consequences for its civilian population and for the subregion as a whole.  The humanitarian situation in Burundi remained grim.  He expressed concern about reports of refugees fleeing the fighting between rebels and Government forces -- more than 300,000 refugees from Burundi in the United Republic of Tanzania and 800,000 internally displaced persons within Burundi itself.  Meanwhile, wider instability in the region impaired peace efforts in Burundi, and reports of the destabilizing presence in Burundi of Interahamwe and ex-Rwandan Armed Forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo were troubling. 

     The European Union and associated States were particularly concerned about the recent forced removals by the Burundi army of some 300,000 civilians in the countryside near Bujumbura, Finland's representative said.  It deplored the violation of human rights, loss of life and destruction of property that had been the hallmark of the operation.  The Government of Burundi must halt the policy of forced removals and allow the people to return to their homes as quickly as possible.  Until then, it must provide the people with better living conditions. 
     
     Burundi's representative said his Government had decided to regroup the population of rural Bujumbura into “protection areas”, following a worsening of violence in certain areas.  The policy was intended to save populations caught between fighting.  The regroupment was not forced, as some said.  Rather, it responded to real concerns of the population, and was the Government’s duty.  It was a painful operation, but if offered hope.  He added that his Government had persistently advocated inclusive negotiations.  The armed factions, who felt they had been left out of the Arusha negotiations, must be involved.  A lasting solution was a political solution.  
     
     He cautioned that if the international community were not watchful, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could affect the entire region.  Rebels were now in collusion with genocidal Rwandan elements –- the Interahamwe and ex-members of the Rwandan army -- and had begun to move towards Burundi again, having acquired an arsenal of weapons. 

     Speakers today paid tribute to the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, and stressed the importance of continuing the Arusha process, of which he had been facilitator.  Namibia's representative said the parties should resolve the question of a successor to Mr. Nyerere to fill the vacuum caused by his untimely death.  Gambia's representative said the ideal choice for a new facilitator would be a former African Head of State agreeable to the Burundian parties.  Similarly, Argentina's representative stressed that States of the region, with the United Nations, must choose a new mediator -- an African personality of prestige who was acceptable to all parties. 
     
     Also, speakers emphasized that the ceasefire agreement signed in Lusaka between the parties to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be implemented.  Peace in Burundi was not likely to last in the absence of regional stability.  At the same time, social and economic development were other key factors in determining Burundi's peaceful future.  The support of the international community was crucial. 

     Statements were also made today by the representatives of Russian Federation, United States, United Kingdom, Bahrain, France, Brazil, Gabon, Malaysia, Netherlands, Slovenia, Norway.

     The meeting began at 11:43 a.m., suspended at 1 p.m., resumed at 3:10 p.m. and adjourned at 4:17 p.m.

     Council Work Programme

     The Security Council met this morning in open debate to consider the situation in Burundi.  

     Concern over the deterioration in Burundi’s political and security situation was heightened by the death in October of former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, who was the facilitator for the Arusha peace talks.  At the request of the Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, travelled to the region to discuss with the leadership of Burundi, the United Republic of Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, the situation in Burundi and to get an understanding of their assessment of the situation, the prospects for the peace talks and to find out what the United Nations could do to keep it on track.
     

     On 12 October, two United Nations staff members were killed in Burundi in a road ambush.  They were part of a multi-agency team carrying out an assessment of humanitarian needs in a displaced persons camp.  On 14 October, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello travelled to Burundi to meet with Burundi officials, representatives of the United Nations agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations based in the country.  The main issues addressed included the need to halt the forced displacement of the population, and to establish conditions for the immediate return to their homes; and the need to adopt urgent measures to guarantee the safety of humanitarian personnel operating in Burundi.  The Under-Secretary-General also highlighted the impact of the murder of the two United Nations staff on efforts to reverse the poor response of the consolidated appeals process for Burundi and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  Thus far, the appeal process is 22 per cent funded.

     In recent days, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had reported that more Burundi refugees were fleeing violence and forced displacement in the southern provinces of Burundi.  They were arriving in the western region of the United Republic of Tanzania at the rate of more than 500 people per day. 

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