FNL still arming and recruiting children, un-named European country denies humanitarian assistance to FNL deserters
By DANIEL K. KALINAKI
A draft UN Security Council report has accused Burundi’s last remaining rebel group, the Forces Nationales pour la Liberation (FNL), of recruiting and arming child soldiers.
The draft report, part of which The EastAfrican has seen, will be discussed by the Security Council as early as February, which could lead to punitive action against the FNL and its leader, Agathon Rwasa, who continues to hold out against implementing terms of a peace agreement signed with President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government.
“Children continue to be associated with the FNL,” the report notes. “It is reported that children are still in the ranks of the two remaining factions of FNL, the Agathon Rwasa and Jean Bosco Gateyeri groups, and ongoing recruitment of children by these groups continues to be of grave concern.”
The Rome Statute bans the recruitment of child soldiers and its violation could lead to the International Criminal Court indicting Rwasa and other senior FNL leaders.
The report documents 85 cases in which the FNL recruited child soldiers between October last year and July this year, with most cases coming soon after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the rebels and the government to end more than a decade of fighting in Burundi.
“The upsurge in recruitment by the FNL is allegedly aimed at enhancing their bargaining power should further peace negotiations take place and enabling them to claim increased financial benefits during the demobilisation and reintegration phases,” the confidential Security Council report notes.
The report notes that the delay in the implementation of the ceasefire agreement has forced many of these child soldiers to defect to authorities in Burundi, a development that has further raised tensions in the country.
Fighters of the FNL have reportedly been attacking these defectors on their way to reception centres set up by the South African peacekeepers in the country.
Kingsley Mamabolo, President Thabo Mbeki’s special envoy to the Burundi peace process, confirmed the defections.
“There are people who came out of the bush who claim they are FNL. We have been given orders by the regional leadership to take care of them on humanitarian grounds. We now have about 2,500 of them. They told us that they are tired of war and they want to participate in the peace agreement.”
The South African envoy added: “There’s one group of FNL that has been attacking them and killing them. There have been clashes between the two groups. On humanitarian grounds, we have no alternative but to get involved. There will, of course, be a process of verification.”
The FNL’s spokesman in Dar es Salaam, Pasteur Habimana, was not available for comment.
Uganda’s envoy to the Burundi peace process, Adonia Ayebare, declined to comment on the matter in depth but confirmed that President Yoweri Museveni, who chairs the regional peace initiative on Burundi, had given the order to offer humanitarian assistance to fighters laying down their arms and coming out of the bush.
The EastAfrican has independently learnt that a European country with links to Burundi has opposed the offer of humanitarian assistance to the defectors on the grounds that it was a “deliberate ploy” by Uganda and South Africa to weaken the FNL by tempting its fighters out of the bush.
The FNL was the last major rebel group to sign a ceasefire agreement with the Burundi government, but has failed to meet its obligations under the deal.
In September, we reported that the rebel leaders had rejected South African mediation in the conflict, accusing Johannesburg of partiality in favour of President Nkurunziza’s government. Analysts now warn that unless more diplomatic attention is paid to the conflict, war might break out again.
In a sign of growing tensions, Rwasa recently turned down an invitation to a meeting with Bernard Membe, Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs And International Co-operation, in which the Tanzanians, who host the Burundi peacekeeping effort, as well as some FNL rebel leaders, were expected to demand that the FNL complies unconditionally with the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Mr Mamabolo however said that there was still time to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
“We continue to call on the FNL to participate in the peace process; nobody has taken their place in the joint verification mechanism,” he said.
“We are concerned and we hope they realise that the way to resolve this problem is to come back to the ceasefire agreement.”
The report also documents rape and other acts of sexual violence against children by members of the Burundi national police, army, intelligence services, as well as the FNL, with 80 cases reported between October 2006 and July this year.
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Burundi, human rights, Current Affairs, Politics, Africa