Background Briefing

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Pierre Nkurunziza, who was elected president of Burundi and took office in August 2005, is a member of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD), once the largest rebel force in the country. His government seeks to rebuild Burundi after a devastating civil war, but has not yet succeeded in making peace with the FNL, which continues military operations in three provinces near the capital, Bujumbura (Bujumbura-rural, Bubanza, and Cibitoke). In March 2006, the FNL announced its willingness to participate in peace talks. After many delays, on May 29 the government of Burundi and the FNL leadership began peace talks in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with South Africa’s Minister for Security Charles Nqakula serving as a mediator.5 Despite the negotiations, fighting between the FNL and government forces has continued in the hills around Bujumbura.6


In the absence of a ceasefire between the government and the FNL, no demobilization program for FNL combatants has been put in place, but in April 2006 the government assembled several hundred FNL combatants at a “welcome center” at Randa in Bubanza province. Previously these combatants had been detained at military posts throughout the country, some having deserted from the FNL, and others having been captured by soldiers of the Burundian army. In early June 2006, more than 400 combatants were interned at Randa, anticipating a ceasefire and the beginning of a Burundian government demobilization program that will likely be supported by the Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme (MDRP), a coalition of international donors that previously supported demobilization of other soldiers and rebel combatants (see also below).7


The Burundian government also holds an indeterminate number of persons in prison on charges of “participation in armed groups.”8 Hundreds of persons who were once detained on accusations of affiliation with the CNDD or other opposition parties or rebel groups were later categorized as “political prisoners” and freed under the terms of the Arusha Accords9 or the subsequent agreement between the CNDD-FDD and the government,10 but hundreds of persons accused of having supported or fought for the FNL remain in jail.11 Just as those former combatants at Randa expect to be demobilized and to return home with a package of monetary and other benefits, those persons in prison hope to win release, just as others detained for their affiliations with other rebel groups have done.12


[5] “Ouverture de négociations directes entre Gouvernement et FNL,” Agence Burundaise de Presse, May 30, 2006.

[6] “Attaques des FNL à partir des collines qui surplombent Bujumbura,” Agence Burundaise de Presse, May 31, 2006.

[7] Human Rights Watch notes of field visit, Randa welcome center, June 13, 2006. The Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme (MDRP) is a multi-agency effort that assists in the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, including children, in Central and Southern Africa.

[8] “Warning Signs: Continuing Abuses in Burundi,” A Human Rights Watch Report, no. 3, February 27, 2006, [online]

[9] See footnote 2.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Liberation provisoire de 1.834 prisonniers politiques,” Agence Burundaise de Presse, March 15, 2006.

[12] Human Rights Watch interviews, Mpimba prison, Bujumbura, May 16, 2006.

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