"Rwasa... has surrounded himself with 'prophets'... who have convinced him that God has made him omnipotent"
N. (name withheld), a 48-year-old resident of Muyira in the province of Bujumbura Rural, knows what it feels like to live in a rebel-controlled area.
Every morning, he leaves his home village to go to work in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, 10 km away. Yet he rarely spends his meagre monthly salary on his family alone, as he has to contribute some of it to the Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL), the country's only remaining rebel group.
"FNL combatants do not even have to come personally. Committees to collect food and money have been set up on each hill," N says.
Residents of Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza - the two strongholds of the rebel movement - feed and sustain FNL combatants, just as they did the fighters of the Conseil National pour la Defence de la Democratie-Forces de Defence de la Democratie (CNDD-FDD) when they were fighting in the bush.
The CNDD-FDD is now Burundi's ruling party. In November 2003, it signed a peace accord, paving the way for its participation in the country's institutions and its registration as a political party.
N says local residents have no choice but to support the FNL. "With a weapon, arguments become convincing," N said.
Failure to contribute to the FNL has resulted in some people being beaten by the combatants. Some people are even said to have died as a result. The presence of the FNL combatants in Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza has meant residents of the two provinces have had to be constantly alert.
Volker Schimmel at the Burundi UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IRIN that residents of these provinces were the victims of short-term displacement throughout 2005.
"They spent the nights near key towns or military positions, but returned home the following days," Schimmel said.
More people were displaced when the Burundian government cracked down on FNL combatants in October 2005, after the rebel movement rejected the government's call to negotiate.
Schimmel says the displacement of the population continues, with the situation worst in the communes of Bubanza, Musigati, Mpanda, Gihanga and Rugazi, where insecurity has meant humanitarian agencies have been unable to gain access to people who need help.
Ironically, when Remy Gahutu and other members of Burundi's Hutu majority founded the original Hutu movement, Palipehutu, in a refugee camp in Tanzania in 1980, their main objective was the liberation of Hutus such as N and other residents of Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza.
Sylvestre Niyungeko, spokesman for Jean Bosco Sindayigaya, the leader of one wing of the now divided Palipehutu-FNL, says Palipehutu was established to end the oppression of ethnic Hutus by ruling members of the country's Tutsi ethnic minority.
Niyungeko said Hutus were not only excluded from power, but were also victims of massacres in 1965, 1969 and 1972. "We wanted to bring the Tutsi to accept the existence of Hutus, for power-sharing and to form a democratic regime that is respectful of human rights," he said.
However, Niyungeko maintained that originally, Palipehutu was not an armed movement. Its armed wing, the FNL, was only set up in 1983. The cause the FNL initially embraced of liberating Hutu has, however, changed with new political developments in Burundi.
According to Elias Sentamba, a political analyst, Palipehutu-FNL has no reason to continue fighting now. "Even the slogan of a Tutsi-dominated army does is no longer valid," Sentamba said.
This changed with a peace accord that Burundian parties signed in August 2000 in Arusha, Tanzania, which provided for power-sharing between Hutu and Tutsi in all Burundi's institutions and the army.
After a three-year transitional period, the former Hutu rebel movement turned political party, the CNDD-FDD, won general elections and took power in August 2005.
This political change prompted some within the Palipehutu-FNL leadership to adjust to the new situation by proposing to lay down weapons and start negotiations.
"We cannot say there is no more cause to fight for, but all can be reached now through negotiations. Fighting now is nothing but banditry," Niyungeko said.
This difference of opinion led to a split within the FNL, dividing it into one wing led by Agathon Rwasa, and another by Sindayigaya.
Sindayigaya, 50, is a founding member of the FNL. A native of the western Cibitoke Province, Sindayigaya was secretary-general of the movement in Cibitoke until 1991 when he was forced to flee to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He later fled to France, where he became a journalist.
Sindayigaya was vice-president of the FNL movement until 2003, when he resigned following a disagreement with Rwasa. His spokesman, Niyungeko, describes him as an introverted, hard-working man who does not like to show off.
At a meeting in Bujumbura Rural in December 2005, Sindayigaya declared he was ready to lay down weapons and begin unconditional negotiations with the Burundian government - a divergence from Rwasa's stand, which excludes negotiations with the Burundian government, currently led by CNDD-FDD's Pierre Nkurunziza.
Rwasa's spokesman, Pasteur Habimana, recently told IRIN that the only option was negotiations with the minority Tutsi, to reach what he called "a social contract to end the ethnic problem in Burundi".
For Habimana, both the CNDD-FDD and the former ruling party, Front Pour la Démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU), have betrayed Burundi's mostly Hutu population by seeking political posts instead of improving living conditions for the majority.
However, some observers believe these to be simple pretexts.
According to political analyst Sentamba, the FNL has rejected the government's offer of negotiations simply because it has no combatants. "The majority of its combatants are either children or Interahamwe [Rwandan Hutu] militias, nothing to boast of," Sentamba said.
Sentamba believes the FNL is a spent force, "but this does not mean it has no striking capacity."
In August 2004, the FNL was held responsible for the massacre of some 100 Congolese Tutsi who were living in a refugee camp outside Bujumbura. After this, heads of state from Africa's Great Lakes region branded the group a "terrorist organisation".
The FNL's capacity to attack civilians and disrupt the peace is enough to cause concern. Palipehutu-FNL is the only rebel movement still active in Burundi.
Touré Penangnini, spokesman of the UN Mission in Burundi, known as ONUB, said the FNL remains a threat to Burundi's security as long as it remains outside the peace process.
"When you are in an environment trying to restore peace, if one single element in that environment remains outside that peace process, it can represent a threat to the society. This can well illustrate the FNL case in Burundi," Penangnini said at a news conference recently.
Some observers say the FNL's refusal to negotiate stems from Rwasa's personality. According to those who have worked closely with him, Rwasa is very secretive and stubborn, someone who neither listens to advice, nor takes quick decisions.
The single, 42-year-old Rwasa is a native of the northern province of Ngozi. He left the University of Burundi in 1989 to join the FNL. After several years as its head of operations, he assumed the rebel movement's leadership in 2000.
Spokesman Niyungeko believes Rwasa has a skewed vision of the geopolitics of central Africa. "He believes Hutus should take power to counter a Hima [Tutsi] regime in the region," Niyungeko said.
Rwasa, he said, has surrounded himself with "prophets" from the DRC and Burundi - prophets who have convinced him that God has made him omnipotent and that, therefore, all he has to do is wait.
"Rwasa firmly believes in this obscurantism and so waits for the power," Niyungeko said.
If, for Sentamba, the FNL continues to exist simply because it forces the local population to sustain it, Niyungeko has a different view. To him, the FNL had a truly popular ideology, based on supporting all Hutu - the masses - not just a Hutu elite.
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