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Mandela Arrives in Burundi

June 12, 2000

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) _ Political prisoners must be released if Burundi is to resolve its seven-year civil war, Nelson Mandela said Monday after arriving in the capital for a three-day visit in search of peace.

The former South African president met first with President Pierre Buyoya, before visiting political prisoners in the capital, Bujumbura.

Mandela spoke to about 60 inmates at Mpimba Prison, telling them he and Buyoya had discussed the release of political prisoners.

``If we are looking for peace here in Burundi, all the political prisoners have to be released,″ he said.

More than 200,000 people, both Hutus and Tutsis, have been killed since 1993, when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the first elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu.

After asking the prisoners how they slept and what they ate, Mandela told them he would continue to press the issue of release.

``But I am not promising that you will be released,″ he said. ``In our country (South Africa), there are some who killed to promote the idea of political parties.″

The prisoners handed Mandela a dossier of alleged persecution against political inmates in the jail. Mpimba holds about 3,000 inmates, the majority of whom claim to have been incarcerated for political reasons.

The proposed release of political prisoners was said to be holding up peace talks in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.

Later Monday, Mandela went into talks with military officials, and planned later in his trip to visit a regroupment camp.

The government has forced more than 300,000 Hutu civilians into camps, claiming they need to be protected from attacks by Hutu rebels. However, the camps have drawn international criticism, and Mandela has called them concentration camps.

Buyoya agreed last week to close the camps by July 31. He also agreed to integrate Burundi’s army, now made up almost entirely of Tutsis, who also dominate the government and economy.