Burundi: Peace Talks Risk Collapsing Over $54,000 Allowance

Nairobi — The Burundi peace agreement could collapse after the South African minister facilitating the process refused to give the leader of the main rebel group $54,000 to attend a meeting in Dar-es-Salaam, prompting a senior rebel to walkout of the South African High Commission in Tanzania in protest.

Impeccable sources told The EastAfrican that South Africa's Safety and Security Minister, Charles Nqakula, who is facilitating the peace talks, last month wrote to Agathon Rwasa, the FNL-Palipehutu chairman, inviting him to a meeting in Dar es Salaam.

Sources say the South African government has been giving about $50,000 dollars to FNL to facilitate the peace talks. The EastAfrican has learnt that Mr Rwasa wrote to Mr Nqakula last month, asking for $54,000 for his delegation and suggested that the meeting be postponed from July 30 to August 12.

However, the South African minister offered Mr Rwasa only three air-tickets - for himself and two aides - "in line with the international legal norms for travelling."

"This meeting is consultative and requires only the presence of his chairman or his mandated representatives in Dar es Salaam," Mr Nqakula's wrote in his letter, which was copied to Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, as well as to AU chairman Alpha Oumar Konare and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The EastAfrican has learnt that FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana, who had provided a breakdown of the costs to justify the $54,000, rejected the reduced package he was offered by the South African High commission in Dar-es-Salaam last week and asked for time to consult.

Sources close to the negotiations who requested anonymity say there are suspicions that the FNL costs for this and previous meetings might be inflated, given that most of the leaders are based in Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam and Bujumbura. The sources said there is also a growing fear that some of the funds might be diverted to buy arms, especially after the FNL pulled out of the ceasefire monitoring team.

Diplomatic sources told The EastAfrican that Mr Nqakula was expected to brief Presidents Kikwete and Museveni on the outcome of the meeting, or seek alternatives if it fails to take off.

Uganda's point-man on Burundi, Adonia Ayebare, was noncomittal when contacted, citing lack of clear information about the matter.

"The situation is not out of control," he said. "The facilitator is handling the peace process as mandated by the region and his briefing is awaited."

Efforts to get a comment from Habimana or from the Burundi embassy in Kampala were unsuccessful.

The FNL was the last rebel group to sign a peace agreement with President Nkurunziza's government.

However, the FNL has dithered on the implementation. They have dragged their feet on implementing the ceasefire provisions, citing the need to discuss a power-sharing agreement and reform of the army, saying it is dominated by the Tutsi.

However, government officials say the ceasefire agreement does not have provisions for power-sharing, and that the army is representative.

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