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A New Constitution For Burundi

The independent electoral commission in Burundi has certified the results of the country's first democratic vote in twelve years. According to the commission, more than two-million-six-hundred-thousand Burundians approved a new constitution. Just over two-hundred-thousand voted against it.

Stanislas Nsabuwanka is Burundi's ambassador to Kenya. He says the constitutional referendum represents a turning point:

"We know the rule -- how people must cohabitate, how they must share everything. The constitution shows us how we can cohabitate between ethnic groups, how we could organize our institutions, and show us how we could build our nation."

The referendum was mandated by the August 2000 Peace and Reconciliation Accord signed in Arusha, Tanzania. The agreement ended more than a decade of fighting in Burundi between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis. Between 1993 and 2000, tens of thousands of Burundians were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the fighting.

The new constitution calls for the two ethnic groups to share power. In Burundi, Tutsis make up approximately fourteen percent of the population, yet historically they have dominated the army and government. The constitution provides for a fifty-fifty split between Hutus and Tutsis in the Senate and the army. The national assembly will be divided sixty percent Hutu and forty percent Tutsi, as will positions in the executive branch.

Burundi's new constitution also calls for thirty-percent women's representation in the government. Majori Niyungeko is head of the Association of Women Lawyers in Burundi. She says, "This is an important step because there has never been such a provision in previous constitutions."

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli says that the U.S. "views the [constitutional] referendum as an important milestone on the path to peace." Mr. Ereli says that the U.S. "remains committed to fully supporting the Burundi peace process and the Burundian people as they move forward."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.