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Burundi Army, rebels to hold talks

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March 3, 2001 


DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AP) Burundi's Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebel groups are to hold unprecedented talks next week on ending hostilities in their 7 1/2 -year civil war, which has killed more than 200,000 people, a mediator said Friday.

The talks will be held in South Africa and will ``run nonstop until an agreement is struck,'' said Mark Bomani, chief aide to former South African President Nelson Mandela, who has been mediating 2 1/2 -year efforts to end the war.

They will be the first direct talks between Burundian army officials and representatives of the two main rebel groups, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy and the National Liberation Forces, Bomani said.

The rebels have refused to join a peace deal signed in August by 17 Hutu and Tutsi political parties, the government and the military.

The violence broke out in October 1993 after Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the tiny central African country's first democratically elected president, a Hutu. Although in the minority, Tutsis have effectively controlled Burundi for all but four months since independence from Belgium in 1962.

Most of the war's victims are civilians, and fighting has intensified in recent months. In the past week, dozens of people have been killed as the army and rebels traded mortar and gunfire on the outskirts of Bujumbura.

On Friday, a rocket-propelled grenade fired by rebels hit a car in a funeral procession nine miles northwest of the city, killing two soldiers and a civilian, witnesses said.

Rebels hiding behind gravestones fired on the procession of more than 60 cars as it arrived at a cemetery to bury an army captain killed by rebel gunfire earlier in the week, said the witnesses, who did not want to be identified. The rebels then fled. One person was still missing, the witnesses said.

Late Thursday, two civilians were also killed in the largely Tutsi neighborhood of Ngagara when a mortar struck a house.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday condemned the ``deliberate targeting of the civilian population by the armed groups,'' particularly attacks waged by the National Liberation Forces, and called for compromise and an immediate end to the violence.

A cessation of hostilities is crucial to the implementation of the peace accord, which does not provide for a formal cease-fire, Bomani said. The agreement provides for an ethnically balanced army and parliament. But the signatories have failed to agree on the key issue of who will head a three-year transitional government set out in the accord.

``Without an end to the fighting, implementation of the ... peace accord will remain confusing,'' Bomani told reporters. ``There is a lot of frustration and impatience in the region and the international community, but we see light at the end of the tunnel.''

Bomani refused to say when the talks would begin or where in South Africa they would take place.

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