Cablegate: Scenesetter for the Visit of Deputy Assistant

Published: Tue 11 Sep 2007 03:07 PM
DE RUEHJB #0656/01 2541507
P 111507Z SEP 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. SUMMARY: Your visit to Burundi comes at yet another
critical time in the country's modern political history.
President Nkurunziza,s administration faces significant
political challenges that could destabilize the government if
unadressed. Negotiations between the Government of Burundi
(GOB) and the lone remaining rebel group, the PALIPEHUTU-FNL
(FNL), broke down in July when FNL negotiators withdrew to
the bush to with their leader, Agathon Rwasa.
Since then, a dissident FNL splinter group allegedly
committed to a less confrontational posture came under attack
in a Bujumbura suburb by pro-Rwasa FNL supporters, resulting
in the deaths of at least twenty people. The inter-FNL
skirmish has raised new fears for renewed conflict, however
both sides maintain they are committed to implementing the
accords of the September 2006 cease-fire agreement
2. Successive episodes of corruption and a large civil
service wage increase promised by the President have led to
the temporary suspension of World Bank and other donor
budgetary assistance totaling $93 million, pending a positive
review by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of the
current budget. The IMF has established several
prerequisites the GOB must fulfill to be eligible for a
positive review. In the meantime, civil servants, expecting
a 34% salary increase promised by President Nkurunziza on May
1, have gone unpaid, taxes have increased, and many
government programs go unfunded.
3. A political stalemate in the National Assembly and the
Senate has added to the tensions in Burundi as each side
tries to out blame the other for the impasse. In a
frightening sign of the increasing hostilities, the homes of
five parliamentarians suffered grenade attacks in a widely
believed retaliation for signing a letter criticizing the
government for its inaction. No one was killed in the
attacks and all political parties have since committed to
resolve the stalemate through dialogue, and tensions have
abated significantly, for the moment. Throughout the
disorder, the GOB remains committed to sending two battalions
to take part in the AU Mission in Somalia. The US has
committed to train and outfit one of the two battalions. END
The Peace Process
4. In September 2006, President Nkurunziza,s government
signed a cease-fire agreement with the FNL, the sole
remaining rebel group, which had remained outside the peace
process. Nonetheless, the GOB faces significant challenges,
which, if unresolved, could undermine its credibility and
eventually lead to a return to violence. The mandate for the
UN Operations in Burundi (ONUB) expired on December 31, 2006;
its remaining military forces (a South African infantry
battalion) were literally to fall under African
Union sponsorship. Several ONUB staff agencies were
reconfigured in place to form the nucleus of the Integrated
Bureau of the UN in Burundi (BINUB) to facilitate the FNL
reintegration, among other security sector initiatives.
5. The government is now attempting to restart negotiations
with FNL representatives to facilitate the demobilization and
reintegration of former FNL combatants, and to integrate FNL
political leaders into the current government. In July, the
Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JVMM) ceased to
function, as FNL negotiators fled to the bush in dramatic
fashion to with their leader Agathon Rwasa. The
GOB and the FNL have since promised a return to dialogue and
agreed to a meeting between President Nkurunziza and FNL
leader Agathon Rwasa. The Government of Tanzania (GOT),
which hosts the FNL leaders, has given the two sides until
December 31 to negotiate a settlement or lose GOT financial
and logistical support for the process. Further complicating
the negotiations, the FNL has written to the UN Secretary
General, demanding South Africa be replaced as the
facilitator for the FNL to continue to participate.
6. A group of so-called FNL dissidents allegedly weary of
conflict and ready to implement cease fire accords with the
GOB has formed, dividing the FNL. The group is apparently
growing in number but is strongly opposed by forces loyal to
FNL leader Agathon Rwasa. In a brazen show of force on
September 3 and 4, pro-Rwasa troops attacked a contingent of
dissident soldiers near the capital of Bujumbura, leaving at
least 20 dead. An FNL spokesman confirmed after the attacks
that troops must remain devoted to the FNL cause or risk the
same fate as their colleagues. The Burundi Army has moved
the dissident force away from Bujumbura for their security
and has pledged to keep them protected. A senior Burundi
military official said privately today that if the pro-Rwasa
forces attacked the dissident FNL forces under the Burundi
Army's protection, the Burundi Army would engage the
Political Situation
7. A political stalemate is ongoing in the Burundi National
Assembly, with the President's fractured National Council for
the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy
(CNDD-FDD) party unable to unite to pass legislation.
Opposition parties have become emboldened by the crisis in
the ruling party and have stepped up efforts to impose their
political will on the GOB. Many of the parties are
unfamiliar with the traditional role of an opposition party,
and prefer to stymie the legislative process rather than
compromise with opponents. The CNDD)FDD is currently split
between supporters of the President and supporters of
ex-party President Hussein Radjabu. (Note: Radjabu was
arrested in April for state security.8 He
remains imprisoned, pending appeal. End Note)
8. In late August, the homes of five parliamentarians
suffered grenade attacks in apparent reprisal for signing a
letter of dissent against President Nkurunziza. To date, no
one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but two body
guards for one of the parliamentarians have been detained in
connection with the incident. The home of Pancrace Cimpaye,
spokesmen for the opposition Front for Democracy in Burundi
(FRODEBU), was raided a day after he accused CNDD-FDD party
president Jeremie Ngendekumana of orchestrating the grenade
attacks. Cimpaye was not at home at the time and has since
kept a low profile, remaining outside of police custody.
9. President Nkurunziza, under sustained pressure from the
media, political parties, and the international community,
reached out to opposition parties at the end of August to
reestablish a dialogue and encourage them to work together
for the people of Burundi. The talks have yet to resolve the
stalemate in the National Assembly, but are widely perceived
as a positive step in the right direction.
Budget Issues
10. Notwithstanding the expectations raised by a highly
successful donor conference in May, the Government of Burundi
is currently facing a difficult financial situation. Because
of a high profile embezzlement scandal involving local
petroleum importing company Interpetrol and a promised 34%
salary increase for civil servants, the World Bank, the EU,
and Norway have yet to disperse upwards of $100 million in
budget support funds. Dispersal of the funds is contingent
upon IMF approval of the GOB budget. The IMF has already
conducted five budget reviews this year and is planning a
sixth review after the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in
Washington, D.C., October 19-21.
11. At the conclusion of its fifth budget review in August,
the IMF delineated several prerequisites the GOB must meet
before they will approve the budget. The IMF stipulated that
Burundi must backtrack on the President's promised 34% salary
increase, as the money to finance it is unavailable. Wages
account for an astonishingly high 11%-12% of Burundi's
budget, far more than in most developing countries where they
account for only five to six percent. In an effort to
further reduce wages, the government must also make a good
faith attempt to demobilize additional soldiers and police
this year.
12. The IMF also instructed the GOB to recoup some of the
$17 million dollars that disappeared as part of an alleged
illegal payment to Interpetrol. The missing funds were
reportedly paid to the company to offset "exchange rate
differentials" incurred by Interpetrol during the
international embargo against Burundi during the civil war.
The Minister of Finance has been replaced, the then Governor
of the central bank arrested, and Interpetrol trucks seized
at the border in an attempt to find the missing funds. The
GOB has also secured a freeze on $6 million in Interpetrol
funds in a local bank; however, the GOB has yet to gain
access to the money. Finally, the IMF asked the GOB to
increase taxes on several basic products, including gasoline,
fizzy drinks, and sugar. While the GOB has promised to
implement the taxes, so far only the tax on sugar has been
AMISOM Deployment
13. Burundi has pledged to support the African Union Mission
to Somalia (AMISOM) with up to two battalions of roughly 850
soldiers each. The deployment has been delayed by the AU,s
lack of organizational capacity, including its inability to
find financiers for equipment and training for the volunteer
troops. The United States has stepped in to provide African
Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA)
directed Expeditious Pre Deployment Training (EPDT) to the
soldiers and will outfit one battalion with the full
complement of equipment needed for the mission. The AU is
soliciting other donors to finance the second battalion. The
EPDT is currently underway and Burundian troops will deploy
at the conclusion of the program and upon the arrival of all
the necessary equipment.
14. You visit here will help reinforce our message that the
solution to the FNL problem is through peaceful negotiations,
that this political impasse can only be solved through
dialogue, and the GOB must take significant steps to arrest
the continued corruption in this county. Only by addressing
these issues head-on will the GOB be able to govern
efficiently and prosper economically. Also, US support for
the Burundi deployment to Somalia is strongly welcomed by the
GOB in light of other donors inaction. Your welcome visit
here will underscore our continuing commitment to Burundi's
AMISOM deployment and to the country's future as a key
strategic partner.
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