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Major Burundi aid should replace UN troops-UN envoy

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 (Reuters) UN peacekeepers, who are leaving Burundi this year, should be replaced by a massive aid program to lift the central African nation out of poverty after a dozen years of civil war, the top UN envoy in the country said.

Carolyn McAskie said yesterday, a day before she addresses the UN Security Council, that the 300 million dollars annual cost of the UN mission should be spent on health, education and the economy in a country where 50 per cent of the population is malnourished.

''Now is the time for the international community to say, 'Why don't we come together and try to get it right in Burundi?''' McAskie, a Canadian, told a news conference.

McAskie, who is leaving her post at the end of the month, said Burundi, with a population of 7 million, was small enough to thrive and could have a positive impact on the region.

''If we can't get it right in Burundi, then where could the international community get it right?'' she asked. ''My challenge to the international community is -- You've done the peacekeeping job. Now do the peace-building job.'' Burundi is emerging from more than a decade of ethnic civil war that pitted rebels from the Hutu majority against a Tutsi ruling elite, killing an estimated 300,000 people.

A series of elections led to the swearing in of former rebel Pierre Nkurunziza as president in August under a Hutu-Tutsi power-sharing plan.

McAskie called Burundi ''by and large a success story'' and said the United Nations came at critical point in the peace process when Burundians ''learned over a series of painful years to talk to each other.'' The 5,500 peacekeepers, who arrived in 2004, helped the transition to elections, a constitution and the creation of a national defense force, McAskie said.

McAskie acknowledged that the last group of rebels, the Hutu Forces for National Liberation or FNL, still posed a threat in the hills around the capital, Bujumbura.

The FNL has agreed to talk to the government and McAskie predicted the government would accept, perhaps in the next three months.

Another major problem that needs to be addressed is human rights abuses, McAskie said. The FNL attacks civilians and extorts money to support itself. In turn, government soldiers, police and intelligence agents attack civilians in search of rebels hiding among them, she said.

''So the population gets in the away and they suffer,'' McAskie said.

REUTERS SK RK1114

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