Former Burundian President Pierre Buyoya began with an overview of the power-sharing provisions of the Arusha Accord, which called for the establishment of a 36-month transitional period divided into two halves – with the president to be drawn from the Tutsi G-10 group of political parties for the first eighteen months, and the Hutu G-7 party group to provide the president for the second eighteen months. Under the Arusha agreement, the Government is made up of 60 percent Hutu, 40 percent Tutsi; the National Assembly has the same ratio; and the Senate (an institution designed "to assure the minority") and the Army are explicitly to be constituted of 50 percent Hutu, 50 percent Tutsi. Buyoya added that the Senate also allocates three seats to the Twa minority.
Buyoya observed that many feared that the May 1 transition to a Hutu presidency would encounter difficulties. However, contrary to expectations, the transition had gone smoothly. There were no particular tensions evident, and only small changes had been made in the constitution of the Cabinet, in order to accommodate two of the rebel groups who had agreed to be integrated in the transitional institutions.
However, Buyoya continued, serious challenges remained in the search for peace. The most significant of these was the absence of a complete cease-fire. Three rebel groups had agreed to a cease-fire, but one of the three (the Pierre Nkurunziza wing of the CNDD-FDD) had resisted implementation. Moreover, a fourth group (the Agathon Rwasa wing of the Palipehutu-FNL) was not yet at the negotiating table. Buyoya suggested that the principal impediment to a fully effective cease-fire appeared to be intra-Hutu competition for political advantage, with the CNDD-FDD challenging FRODEBU's claim to political pre-eminence among the Hutu. Buyoya said it was urgent that the region and the international community do everything possible to press the rebellion to accept and to implement a fully effective cease-fire.
The second challenge to a sustainable peace, Buyoya said, was establishing an effective international peacekeeping presence. Because of the absence an effective cease-fire, the UN was unwilling to assume the peacekeeping responsibility. The Africa Union therefore agreed to establish an interim peacekeeping force comprised of Ethiopian, Mozambican and South African troops. However, Buyoya observed, the AU lacked the experience, the resources, and the institutional mechanism that were required. He felt it was imperative that there be a peacekeeping "hand off" to the UN as soon as possible – and argued that such a hand off should be possible even if the FNL refused to come to the negotiating table. This recalcitrant group, he argued, would not be a militarily significant force once the CNDD-FDD had been integrated in the transitional political institutions and into the Army.
In response to questions, the former president made these additional observations:
-- Regionalism was not really a fundamental issue in Burundi, but was simply the expression of competition within political elites.
-- At the end of the day, extremists who refused integration in the new transitional institutions would be isolating themselves.
-- Many Burundians as well as some within the international community were not happy with the Army's handling of the Itaba massacre, in which 180 civilians were reportedly killed by the Army. The government is continuing its investigation.
-- The Burundian conflict was linked to the events in the region, with Burundian rebels having fought alongside Kabila's army and with Mai Mai elements, and with some establishing links with the Interahamwe of Rwanda.
-- The Burundian government should continue to prepare for elections according to the prescribed timetable; if there is no cease-fire by the time elections are to be held, the Government will have to assess the feasibility of moving forward with elections at that point.
-- The international community can assist Burundi in three ways: (1) pressing the rebels for an immediate cease-fire, (2) pressing the regional states to do everything they can to get the rebels to the table; (3) providing urgently needed economic assistance. ("Poverty remains a main obstacle to peace," Buyoya said.)
-- He hoped that President Bush would use his upcoming visit to the region to press for the cease-fire.
-- While earlier political discussions and arrangements had taken ethnicity into account, the Arusha agreement provided the first explicit institutionalization of "ethnicity" in the power-sharing formula.
-- He believed his principal contributions as president during the past several years had been four-fold: allowing the Arusha negotiations to go forward; beginning the implementation of the Arusha Accord, which permitted the launching of the transitional institutions, and allowed a Hutu president to take over; establishing a cease-fire agreement with three of the four rebel groups that had not participated in the Arusha process; and helping to get Burundi on the road to peace.
-- The Tutsi acceptance of an international peacekeeping force, which they had previously resisted, was part and parcel of the global political agreement struck at Arusha.