Mandela To Mediate Burundi Talks
ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) _ African leaders today named former South African President Nelson Mandela as the new mediator for talks aimed at ending Burundi’s 6-year civil war.
The leaders announced the appointment after a closed-door meeting in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha. Mandela replaces former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere who died of leukemia in October.
Fighting between Burundian government forces and Hutu rebels has killed more than 200,000 people since 1993, when Tutsi paratroopers killed Burundi’s first democratically elected president, a Hutu.
The rebels are seeking the ouster of President Pierre Buyoya, a retired Tutsi military officer who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1996.
The 81-year-old Mandela had shunned calls for his participation in the Burundi talks, saying last week that furthering peace in the Middle East was his priority. That placed him in the awkward position of appearing to be more interested in solving a Middle East problem than an African one.
He now faces a formidable task. The talks, which began in June 1998, have made little headway. Violence has escalated in recent months and led to the army’s forced resettlement of more than 300,000 Hutu civilians into camps that international human rights groups have condemned as squalid and unsafe.
``There is no alternative to a negotiated settlement to the Burundi conflict,″ said the statement released by the leaders after their meeting.
The statement urged Mandela to move quickly to end the violence and urged the immediate disbandment of the camps.
Mandela recently emerged as the favored candidate by most of the 18 parties to the peace negotiations, which included the government, several rebel and opposition groups and representatives of several African countries.
Hutus make up the majority of Burundi’s 6.5 million people, but the minority Tutsis have controlled the country’s government, army and economy for all but four months since independence in 1962.