Burundi's progress amid challenges commended by UN envoy Parfait Onanga-Anyanga
New York, July 23 (IBNS): Burundi has made progress on a number of fronts in recent months but still faces numerous challenges, including a weak economy, cross-border incursions and a mixed human rights situation, the top United Nations envoy to the country told the Security Council Monday.
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Burundi, reported that there have been "significant" advances in terms of political dialogue over the past six months.
One among them is that several opposition politicians who remained in exile abroad following their boycott of the 2010 elections returned to Burundi to participate in a workshop that was held in March. Also, for the first time since the boycott, all Burundian political actors came together to discuss their country's political future.
"I wish to emphasize that the return of key political figures to Burundi marks significant progress and is an encouraging sign of the increasing willingness of all political actors to collaborate in the interest of preparing peaceful, free and fair elections in 2015."
The returning politicians have since resumed their activities and some political parties have already been able to make progress in terms of reaching out to their members in different locations of the country, he noted.
"These major advances on political dialogue have played a key role in reducing restrictions of political space which have had the negative impact of curtailing the ability of political parties and actors to freely conduct their day-to-day activities."
At the same time, the activities of some youth members of political parties have raised concern, Onanga-Anyanga said.
"Given the country's violent history, we strongly urge all stakeholders to ensure that youth wings of political parties perform their activities peacefully and do not become a source of intimidation and at times actual danger for the population, including those that may be politically active, thus affecting negatively the political environment ahead of the 2015 elections."
Supporting next year's elections in the war-scarred African country is one of several tasks assigned by the Council to the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB). Headed by Onanga-Anyanga, the Office was set up in 2006 to assist efforts towards peace and stability after decades of factional and ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The envoy noted that overall Burundi continued to enjoy a "commendable" level of security and stability. However, occasional clashes continued in recent months between Government forces and armed groups, including cross-border incursions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with armed groups claiming responsibility for some of the attacks.
"As such incidents show, the ongoing instability in eastern DRC continues to adversely impact on Burundi."
In addition, the country finds itself in an "extremely difficult" fiscal position, which could, if not handled properly, pose a serious threat to hard-won yet still fragile stability, the envoy warned.
The picture regarding the overall human rights situation during the first half of this year is "mixed," Onanga-Anyanga said, noting that there have been far fewer cases of killings that may have been politically motivated than in the past.
He also noted that the "excessive and inappropriate" use of force by State security agents, mostly the police, appears to have been the cause of the majority of cases of human rights violations that have been documented since the beginning of this year.
Another issue the country continues to struggle with, said the Special Representative, is the high rate of extreme poverty. "Food security and nutrition remain major challenges, and most Burundians continue to face a daily struggle to make ends meet."
He added that projections for 2013 indicate a slightly increased growth rate of 5.3 per cent, which is still insufficient to significantly reduce the poverty level, given continuing high rates of population growth.
Ambassador Paul Seger of Switzerland, the head of the Burundi configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), told the Council that his overall impression after visiting the country last month is that although it has made significant progress, a number of challenges remain to be tackled.
"I saw a real risk of a gap between the Government's expectations on the one hand, and those of the international community on the other," he stated. "Moreover, the fragility of the Burundian economy requires urgent action."
He said his message to the Government is to show political leadership and to redouble its efforts to undertake major reforms in the areas of good political and economic governance and the rule of law, while his message to the international community is to step up its commitment to Burundi and to maintain constructive, open and forthright communication with the Government.
"I realize that the peacebuilding process is difficult and requires perseverance. Every marathon runner knows that the last 10 kilometres are the hardest," Seger stated. "I therefore encourage the Government to press ahead with the race given that the country has made so much progress in terms of stabilization in recent years."
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