Tanzanian mediation rejected over government's pro-FNL leanings
Bujumbura - South Africa will serve as mediator of peace talks between the government of Burundi and the country's lone remaining rebel group to be held in Tanzania, a senior Burundian official said Thursday.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has offered his nation's services in attempts to broker a resolution to the ongoing conflict between Bujumbura and the National Liberation Forces (FNL), the official said.
"The venue may be Dar es Salaam but mediation will be ensured by the South African facilitator, President Thabo Mbeki, with the help of regional experts," said Hussein Radjabu, the head of Burundi's ruling party.
Radjabu was speaking to reporters on his return from South Africa where he met with Mbeki, whose country has long played a leading role in Burundi's peace process, to discuss plans for the upcoming talks in Tanzania.
It was not immediately clear if Mbeki himself would attend the negotiations or send a senior representative as he did in the past when he gave the Burundi portfolio to then vice president Jacob Zuma.
Radjabu said Mbeki had told him that Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete had asked for South Africa's help in the talks that had been expected to begin earlier this month, but have yet to start.
However, numerous sources familiar with developments said Burundi was wary of Tanzanian mediation because of concerns Tanzanian officials may be too close to the FNL.
The FNL is the only one of Burundi's seven Hutu rebel groups that remain outside the peace process aimed at ending the tiny central African nation's 12-year ethnically driven civil war that has claimed some 300 000 lives.
The group initially refused to recognize the legitimacy of a power-sharing government headed by President Pierre Nkurunziza, himself a former Hutu rebel leader, that was elected last year.
Since then, however, the FNL has split into two groups: one headed by its longtime hardline chief Agathon Rwasa and one led by a former top lieutenant Jean Bosco Sindayigaya, who favors peace talks with Bujumbura.
Rwasa then held out an offer of peace talks but Nkurunziza balked until last month when the rebel leader agreed to unconditional negotiations in Tanzania's commercial capital.
The dates for the talks have never been formally set but many expected them to begin last weekend.
Radjabu said on Thursday that the government negotiating team would leave by the end of the week as long as details still under discussion were worked out. - Sapa-AFP
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