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Saturday July 1, 2006

U.N. votes to wrap up peacekeeping force in Burundi at year's end


UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to wrap up its peacekeeping mission in Burundi on Dec. 31 and to replace it with a U.N. office to help the African nation promote development and democratic government. 

The U.N. force has helped put the central African nation on the road to peace after a 12-year civil war which has killed more than 250,000 people, most of them civilians who died of disease and hunger. The council voted Friday to end the mission. 

The war started in October 1993, when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country's first democratically elected president, a Hutu. 

In March, the outgoing head of the U.N. mission in Burundi, Carolyn McAskie, said the annual US$300 million (euro236 million) cost of the force _ which has been reduced from 5,650 to 3,500 _ should be spent to build the country's economy, health services and education. 

Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed McAskie in May as assistant secretary-general to support the new U.N. Peacebuilding Commission which will help countries in the difficult transition from conflict to stability and development. On June 23, the commission decided that Burundi and Sierra Leone would be the first countries it helps. 

All of the central African country's main rebel groups from the majority Hutus have signed peace deals, leading to democratic elections last year that established a new government. Only the National Liberation Force opted out of the deals, but on June 18 it signed a tentative agreement to end hostilities and both sides are committed to negotiating a comprehensive cease-fire by July 2. 

The Security Council on Friday welcomed the ongoing negotiations with the rebel holdouts and said it looks forward "to the early conclusion of a comprehensive ceasefire agreement.'' 

It also congratulated the people of Burundi "on the successful conclusion of the transitional period and the peaceful transfer of authority to a representative and democratically elected government and institutions.'' 

The resolution extends the mandate of the U.N. force until Dec. 31 and welcomes Annan's intention to then establish "an integrated office of the United Nations in Burundi.'' 

It also extended until Sept. 30 the transfer of 50 military observers and a military hospital from the Burundi mission to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo. That will cover the run-up to elections scheduled on July 30 and their aftermath. - AP

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