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Burundi govt, main rebel group sign peace deal
( 2003-10-08 11:38) (Agencies)

Burundi's main rebel group signed a new peace accord with the government on Wednesday aimed at ending a decade of civil war that has killed 300,000 people in the central African country.

Pierre Nkurunziza's Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) signed the deal on their entry into government and the armed forces in the early hours after three days of gruelling negotiations in the South African capital Pretoria.

After the signing, both sides agreed to issue immediate orders to halt hostilities, to applause from the assembled delegations and mediators.

Burundi's war has pitted rebels from the ethnic Hutu majority against a politically powerful Tutsi minority.

"Agreement has been reached about a whole number of outstanding matters to do with political issues and defence and security issues related to bringing about peace," South African President Thabo Mbeki said at a special signing ceremony.

South Africa has played a key role in mediating an end to the conflict. Former President Nelson Mandela, who was for a time the main mediator in the conflict, had phoned up during Tuesday evening to check on progress, Mbeki said.

"I told him that negotiations had been concluded... He's a very happy man."

Wednesday's deal addressed the mechanics of bringing the FDD into a powersharing government and the armed forces, as agreed in principle last December under a doomed ceasefire.

Another big Hutu rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), has so far refused to negotiate peace with the government, but Mbeki said there had been progress towards bringing them into the peace process.

"It's a small problem - even they have made overtures to come into the process," he told reporters after the signing.

Wednesday's deal handed Nkurunziza's FDD four ministries including a minister of state who should be consulted by the president on all issues.

The FDD also gets the second vice-president and deputy secretary-general, both posts in a six-strong bureau of the national assembly in which it will also have 15 seats.

The government had dismissed as excessive the FDD' previous demand for the post of parliamentary speaker and vice-president.

On the military side, the FDD got 40 percent of staff and officer jobs in the new army as it had demanded, with command posts being split evenly between Hutus and Tutsis.

"We are ready and we commit ourselves to this road," said Burundi's President Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu installed in April under a previous ethnic power-sharing agreement.

Nkurunziza called the deal "important and historic", while Mbeki, who has made ending conflicts a pillar of his African renaissance, said it was a "very important moment for Africa".

"We need to replicate it everywhere else on the continent where we are killing each other as Africans," he said. 

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