Burundi's recent history has been marked by a destructive struggle
between the Tutsi minority and the disenfranchised Hutu majority that
has been excluded from political and economic opportunities.
Burundi's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadye,
a Hutu, was assassinated in 1993. Since then, over 200,000 Burundians
have been killed in clashes between Tutsi-dominated governments and Hutu
rebels. Hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced or become
refugees in neighboring countries, and the Burundi economy has continued
to crumble. President Pierre Buyoya, a moderate Tutsi, came to power in
a bloodless coup d'etat in July 1996.
In September 1999, the humanitarian situation deteriorated rapidly
when the Government of Burundi forcibly displaced the Hutu population of
the Bujumbura Rural province into about 54 regroupment camps, ostensibly
to protect them from rebel attacks. These camps, which contain over
350,000 Hutus, lack food, water, shelter, and basic sanitation.
In response to U.S. and international pressure, the Burundi
government announced in January it would begin to dismantle 11 camps
holding approximately 55,000 Hutus as soon as the security situation
permitted, and has now begun to do so.
The Arusha Peace Process
The ongoing Arusha peace negotiations, initiated under the
leadership of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere in 1996,
includes 18 parties. Despite the complexity of the peace process, Dr.
Nyerere and the parties had made considerable progress by the end of
last year. The talks were given new impetus in December, when former
South African President Nelson Mandela was appointed as facilitator to
replace Nyerere, who died last October.
President Mandela organized a February 21-22 plenary session in
Arusha, Tanzania, to be attended by all 18 parties. Several regional
leaders will join him at the February 21 opening session, and -- at the
request of President Mandela -- President Clinton will address the
closing session live via video conference February 22 to urge the
parties to work towards peace.
Peace in Burundi is critical to help bring about an end to the war
in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and implementing the Lusaka
Ceasefire Agreement, signed by the parties to that conflict.
Given the importance of preventing future mass violence, supporting
democracy and human rights, and promoting stability in the Great Lakes
region, the U.S. supports the Burundi peace process both diplomatically
Former Member of Congress Howard Wolpe serves as President
Clinton's Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, and has been actively
engaged in support of the mediation effort.
The United States has provided $40 million in humanitarian
assistance to the people of Burundi since 1998, with an additional $9
million allocated already this year.
Burundi is included in the President's Great Lakes Justice
Initiative, a program which aims to help build the institutions required
to break the cycle of violence in central Africa.
The U.S. has strongly condemned the forced regroupment program, and
continues to press the Government of Burundi to dismantle the
regroupment camps immediately.