With the Chinese AmbassadorA quick run down of what I’ve been up to lately. First, the rest of the story of Burundian Independence Day, when we went to a reception hosted by the President. The reception was held on the golf course (where I often go running) with an open bar and the wonderful drummers that were also at the parade (see video below). The crowd was filled with members of the military, embassy staff and other government officials, so our mingling was quite fun and the whole atmosphere a bit surreal. I spoke a little bit of Chinese with the Chinese Ambassador and also with a Chinese businessman. When I asked the latter where the best place to get Chinese food was and he gave me a suggestion and then also kindly invited me to his house. I also met the ambassadors for the United States and Britain, a Bishop, and (briefly) Pierre Nkurunziza, the President of Burundi. People took his willingness to mingle with the crowd as another sign of confidence in the current peace. Meanwhile Sara was off dancing with the Minister of Arts and Youth, which a number of people mentioned they saw on TV (as well as us sitting in the stands for the parade).

John meeting Pierre NkurunzizaThen on the 3rd, I went to a 4th of July celebration at the US Ambassador’s house, and met more ambassadors, military personnel, and others. Perhaps the best part though was the brownies and chocolate chip cookies. I met some strange people, such as a military person who had been stationed in the Congo but didn’t actually know where in the Congo he had been, and another military adviser who was training troops for Somalia but couldn’t name a single language they speak there. Suffice to say it was good to be back amongst the Western-educated elite.

On the 4th of July the workcampers and I held a little celebration at our house for about 15 Burundian friends. It was rather hastily organized, but we managed to cobble together a movie and some popcorn, peanuts, sweet bread (a cake approximation), cookies and Fanta. We originally had plans to buy ice cream but it cost $29 for about a pint (I suppose because it has to be refrigerated as it is trucked in from Kenya or Tanzania?). To be honest, the atmosphere felt a little flat until at the end all the Burundians burst into lively song and dance and raised the spirit of the whole evening.

This week I am planning to travel up to Rwanda to do some research for a grant we are working on, so hopefully that will be interesting.

Today we celebrated the 46th anniversary of Burundi’s independence from colonial rule under the Belgians. Pastor Eli made it extra special by arranging a meeting for us on Sunday with a fairly high ranking member of the government who scored us special tickets to see the parade and to a reception hosted by the President. So at 8 a.m. I left with the other members of the AGLI workcamp – Vanessa, Sara, and John (who are here for a month to help build the clinic in Kamenge) to near the stadium where the parade took place. We were seated in a grandstand with some high-ranking members of the military and of the judiciary, next to the grandstand with ambassadors, the President and the legislature.

Also attending this year was the leader of the FNL (the rebel movement now at peace with the government), which made for a historic day, with much hope and joy, and according to Pastor Elie, much more openness and feeling of solidarity within the event.

After everyone had arrived and the flag was raised, the parade began with schools, associations, and representatives of each commune in the city. It included everything from gymnasts jumping through flaming hoops to kids dribbling soccer balls, dancing, and playing tennis over a banner, to drummers who were so flexible that they could kick the drum that was on their head as they walked.

Then we watched more than an hour of the army and police marching by, over 5,000 troops by my estimate. After a while one platoon starts to look about like the next, although one in particular stood out since one of its members had lost his suspenders and his pants were falling lower and lower with each (uninterruptable) step, until they were just above his knees. I suppose a few thousand people might have noticed if he fell out of step to pull them up, but instead those same thousands were laughing at him for a good 10 or 15 minutes.

The president’s speech, which was punctuated with drumming, naturally celebrated the inclusion of the FNL in this year’s event. He speech also seemed to revolve around the idea of recognizing the good in people. He said that Burundians needed to change their culture in that although they often say how wonderful a person is after they are dead, they do not do a good enough job of praising people while they are still alive.

The President then introduced officials from Rwanda and DRC to speak briefly, gave some closing remarks, and the day lacked only (what else?) people driving by on motorcycles at high speed standing up. With one foot in the air, like a yoga pose.

Quite a day, and it’s getting late here, so I will save for another post the story of the reception and meeting President Nkurunziza.

As I sit here typing on my computer in the office of AGLI, with the window open beside me, I can hear cars driving in the street, occasional honking, birds chirping, someone using an electric drill, and someone clicking away at a typewriter. On the balcony across the street from me, a man is talking on a cell phone, and below him someone has installed an air conditioner.

One can see the many faces of technological “development,” even here in Burundi, one of the poorest nations in the world. Though I was around the past decade brought internet cafés, cell phones, more cars and more televisions. And with the prospect of peace looking more promising, people are beginning to think about investing in Burundi again; the Chinese are said to be rebuilding a cotton factory, for example, and the World Bank has plans to invest in various improvements, such as $51 million to rebuild roads.

In asking, “which of these developments are good?” I do not want to deny anyone in Burundi the opportunity to consume anything that I have had the privilege to consume. My point is to pose the question to all of us, “What ought we to consume?” Or if the word “ought” sounds too stuffy, how about “what do we value in our lives?” We can ask this question repeatedly, iteratively, asking of each thing we want, why is it that we want it, and secondly, whether we want the consequences of what we must do (e.g. CO2 emissions or working long hours) to get that which we want.

For example, I value the ability to write on this computer and have it transmitted to my friends and family across the globe in a matter of seconds. Why do I want that? Convenience. Because without it, I would either have to write letters by hand and have them sent by post or I would have to live nearer to my family and friends. The latter would involve certain sacrifices, but it would have benefits as well – I would be able to actually see and hug the people I care about, and many other ways that people are drawn closer by living in the same habitat.

But regarding the former possibility, writing a letter instead, what might the tradeoffs be? Convenience, as I have said, but to what further end, or is that a sufficient good in itself?

If I wrote each letter, I would inevitably be led to change and personalize it, since I had to re-write everything anyway. And I might refine it each time I wrote it, or have new thoughts come into my head. And finally, investing that much time in the production of the writing, I would only include words that were worth the effort, and which would hold their value at least until they were delivered in the U.S.

Alternatively, on days that I had no thoughts that seemed worthwhile to communicate, I might instead turn my attention to the rest of the world around me; I might go out and strike up a conversation with a neighbor, or walk about the town and see what is going on, perhaps in the process running across a friend who I have not seen for a while, or meeting a new friend. Without carrying this train of thought further, I think it’s clear that what was at first a silly question now challenges the way we spend our time. Suddenly we are presented with trade-offs between alternative ways of relating not just to things or tasks but to people, the environment, our culture, and our community.

Although I have no real evidence, I would venture to guess that people in Burundi spend more time with their kids, family, and friends, spend more time singing, more time with their community and know their neighbors better, and consume a lot less of the world’s resources. Now to be fair, you can also look up statistics about healthcare, education, and so on, but is development merely a matter of trading the former for the latter?

Sure, if you want to do more, gadgets and machines can be useful, but what if you want to do better – ecologically, morally, and spiritually?

Now that Burundi seems to be heading in the direction of peace, there are murmurs of having some process to address all the gross violations of human rights that occurred.

If someone asked off hand what should happen in countries where there have been gross violations of human rights – extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and so on – most of us the in the West are sufficiently indoctrinated in a particular human rights framework to suggest that those who commit such atrocities should be tried in fair courts and serve prison sentences.

Rurengera Friends ChurchThat accords with a sense of retributive justice – that people who do bad things should face, if not an equally bad thing, then at least some kind of punishment. And many argue that such prosecutions are the only way to end impunity and reestablish the rule of law.

But it turns out there may be situations where countries emerging from conflict throw the notion of punishing human rights violators out the window, and have good reason to do so. Consider Mozambique, a country that experienced a quite brutal civil war in which an estimated 800,000 people lost their lives, and then decided simply to grant a blanket amnesty for all atrocities committed by both sides and move on to rebuild their nation. Agreeing to such an amnesty was basically a precondition for achieving a peace accord, and many people seem happy to be focused on the future rather than the past. Instead of trials, they approached the healing of the wounds of war with traditional healing rituals and worked hard to reintegrate the combatants back into their communities.

I take this example from the journalist Helena Cobban’s book Amnesty After Atrocity?: Healing Nations after Genocide and War Crimes. Cobban compares the cases of Rwanda, South Africa, and Mozambique in terms of how they handled human rights abuses and how that affected the movement towards peace in those countries. It’s full of interesting details that I can’t include here, but consider the following:

  1. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, set up by the UN to try the leaders of the genocide in a Western style court system, cost more than 1.1 billion dollars (by her estimate). How many suspects were tried for that quantity of money? 26. That works out to $42.3 million per suspect!
  2. For comparison, in 2003 Rwanda received $331.6 million in overseas aid, even while, as with most post-conflict countries, the lack of jobs was one of the biggest challenges to peace.
  3. Were people satisfied with this system? An attitudes study in 2002 “found that only 29.2 percent of the Rwandan respondents expressed any degree of approval of ICTR’s record.” (Cobban, p. 194) She found higher approval levels in S. Africa and Mozambique for approaches that didn’t involve such a court system.
  4. The court system itself, with the burdens of proof it seeks to establish through cross-examination, etc., can be re-traumatizing for victims, and through its adversarial approach can emphasize differences between people rather than unite them.

That suggests the case for war crimes tribunals is at least troubling. That said, when (back in DC) I heard Betty Bigombe speak about her experience negotiating the conflict in northern Uganda, she suggested that the threat of being tried on human rights charges helped bring the LRA to the negotiating table. So I don’t mean to suggest this is a simple matter (and of course, I’m not actually against human rights per se, just an overly simplified view of how to achieve them).

A broader approach would include asking about more than just what would end impunity and reinstate the rule of law, such as: (1) what is best for victims, (2) what the opportunity cost of a course of action is in terms of economic development and other forms of reconciliation that could be implemented, and (3) what is best for the nation to achieve and sustain a peaceful future (given that something like 50% of countries relapse into conflict within 5 years of signing peace accords).

With these criteria in mind, how a country deals with its human rights violations may vary from one place to another, and is a decision that might well be left to the people of that country itself (though this is tricky in cases like Rwanda, where the government is not a power-sharing arrangement but instead represents one side of the conflict).

Having dispensed with the Lonely Planet understanding of the differences between Hutu and Tutsi, I thought I might explore a little further the past of these two groups.

In explaining the genocides in Burundi or Rwanda the media sometimes refer to the violence as the result of “ancient tribal hatreds” or “irrational atavistic hatreds.” I earlier challenged this idea, but what exactly was the historical relationship between Hutu and Tusti?

First, a caveat – the nature of this history has itself been a point of contention. The political scientist René Lemarchand points to how both sides have used a mythologized version of history to support their political claims. To simplify, when the (minority) Tutsi ruled the country, then wanted to say, “Look, this whole ethnic problem was just a product of colonialism. Now that the Belgians are gone, Hutu-Tutsi relationships are best forgotten and not discussed (and therefore you won’t mind ongoing Tutsi rule).” Meanwhile the Hutu wanted to say, “the current injustice of Tutsi rule is merely a continuation of what has been going on for many centuries (so the only way to solve it is to have Hutu instead rule the country.)”

The simple answer is, of course, that the truth lies somewhere in between. Relationships between Hutu and Tutsi before the arrival of the colonial powers were not that of perfect equality, but neither were they as problematic as they later became. While differences did exist, the Hutu-Tutsi distinction was not a central dichotomy through which Burundians viewed their lives. Consider the context that is thought to have existed in Burundi in pre-colonial times (See Lemarchand):

  1. There was intermarriage between Hutu and Tutsi, and it was also possible to change between being one or the other. In another sense, one could actually be both, since “Hutu” referred not just to a social group but also to a social subordinate.
  2. There was not simply rule by Tutsi. First of all, there was a separate ruling class, the ganwa, who were considered neither Hutu nor Tutsi, and into which people were elevated from both groups. Furthermore, while Tutsi controlled more of the local chiefdoms than Hutu, there were a nontrivial number of Hutu chiefs.
  3. Unlike in Rwanda, there was a struggle among princes in Burundi (between the “Batari” and “Bezi” clans) that caused them to compete for the allegiance of both Hutu and Tutsi.
  4. Within the royal court, there were ceremonial roles for Hutu, Tutsi and Twa (another minority group that today makes up ~1% of the population).
  5. There was a notion of status that was independent of Hutu/Tutsi. While there was a positive correlation between being Tutsi and being higher status, there were still Hutu that were higher in status than the average Tutsi.
  6. There were kinship identities that were stronger than the Hutu/Tutsi division and which had nothing to do with ethnic membership.
  7. A much-contested issue is that of the patron-client ties that existed between Tutsi and Hutu. These should not, however, be simply understood in the framework of a feudal class-structure. As Lemarchand writes, “To argue, with some Hutu intellectuals, that the patron-client relationship served the Tutsi as a social mechanism for placing the Hutu masses into bondage is arrant nonsense; yet it would be just as naïve and uncritical to assume that patron-client interactions were invariably marked by undiluted social harmony.”

This complexity of relationships and identities suggests that to attribute recent violence in Burundi to ancient hatreds is to falsely read into the past a set of social relationships that developed over time. The current conflict was not ordained by the region’s history; rather it took colonialism and post-independence struggles to forge this distinction into the highly polarizing and contentious issue that it has become, a process which I hope to explore in future posts.

1. Calling the bride a “cow” is normal. Because of their place in traditional society, cows here were (are?) revered animals. In Burundian weddings, the bride’s family usually gives a speech in which they point out that in exchange for the dowry, they promised to deliver the “cow”, i.e. bride. Then they ask the groom’s family to confirm they have made good on their promise. The groom’s family asks the groom whether they have delivered the correct “cow.” The groom looks at the bride and says yes, and the crowd cheers. Also, saying that one has eyes like a cow is a compliment.

Bicyclists Hitching a Ride2. Bicycles. I’m a big fan of bicycles as a carbon free, exercise-included, fun means of transportation, though one of the challenges can be hauling cargo. I was once pretty proud to get to our garden a 40 lb. bag of compost using my bicycle, but these people put me to shame. In addition to regularly carrying passengers, I’ve seen a people carrying a bench and three or four chairs (they have rear racks that are quite a bit sturdier than you find in the US). Also, as you head up the hills out of Bujumbura, just about every truck that has a handhold is also hauling 3 or 4 bicyclists. They’ve got it down to quite an art – they keep one foot on the pedal and then the other leg they loop over the handlebar or over the top tube to keep them from getting fatigued by the need to lean so far forward. You should see them all lean in unison as they round a sharp corner at 30 mph (cue Huey Lewis’ “Power of Love”…)

3. Greetings. Close friends might greet each other with kisses on alternating cheeks like in many other countries, and strangers in some circumstances greet each other with handshakes. But in friendly settings, even strangers will greet each other with little hugs and then handshakes. Also, people here frequently hold hands when talking with each other, including males. I once had a random guy on the street come up to me and hold my hand for five minutes as he cheerfully talked to me and welcomed me to the city.

pineapple, papaya, avocado, egg4. Food. I am growing accustomed to eating giant (7’’) avocados, onion salads (no lettuce, just cucumbers or tomatoes on a bed of raw onion) and absolutely delicious pineapple, papaya, bananas, and mangos. In Burundi one is never too young to start drinking “fanta,” which is the general term for both Coca-Cola and all soda/pop drinks, an inversion of the linguistic traditions of the American South. Also different – just about everyone here eats food that is locally grown, unprocessed, and often organic (fanta aside).

Never too young to start.5. Traffic. Last week in church the pastor wanted to use a metaphor for the signals people receive from God about their leadings, but to do so he had to first spend five minutes explaining that in other countries there are these mechanically controlled lights at intersections, with a red light meaning stop…etc. So traffic lights are a foreign concept. As are stop signs and the expectation of taking turns. Instead, intersections are controlled by a highly complex negotiation, the logic of which has thus far eluded me. For example, if the intersection is of a smaller and a larger road, there seems to be some deference to the larger road, though that may be simply the deference one often gives to a ton of metal heading your way at high velocity.

Now I’ve been to other developing countries before and found the traffic runs a bit differently than in the U.S., but I find riding in cars here a harrowing experience. Not because I fear for my own safety, but because I’m certain we’re going to hit every pedestrian, bicyclist and motorcycle that we pass. Then just as I’m bracing for impact, the sea of human traffic magically parts and we squeak by within inches of people on both sides, none of whom even turns their head. Just another day on the road.

6. Carrying things on one’s head. Burundians seem to carry just about everything on their head, often without using their hands. You see people carrying pots, mats, sugar cane, an umbrella, anything, and man are they good at it. A study of Kenyan woman suggested that they modify their walk in a way that allows them to carry 20% of their body weight without exerting more energy than normal walking (making them far more efficient than any other form of unassisted transport). Last week I saw a guy carrying boxes full of printer paper on his head, stacked 4 boxes high, through the very crowded central market. It was precarious enough that I didn’t stop him to ask why he didn’t just take two trips.

“Trauma” is one of those words we bandy about without thinking too much about what it means or how it affects people. In particular, I mean traumatic stress, a set of physiological, mental, and emotional responses to one or a series of horrible events. I don’t know much about trauma, but trauma healing is a big part of the work that HROC does, so I am trying to learn the basics. My sense is that we should all be a little more aware of it, whether our concern is returning Iraq War vets, domestic violence, the aftermath of earthquakes and tsunamis, or countries emerging from conflict like Burundi.

What we now in the US classify as “Post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) is a concept that has evolved over time from the notion of “hysteria” in the late 19th century that focused on women, to “shell-shock” during WWI, then reaching its present form following the Vietnam War. It can happen to both victims and perpetrators of violence.

According to Judith Herman, there are three main symptoms of PTSD. The first is being in a constant state of hyperarousal, a nonstop fight-or-flight response that continues long after the threat is gone. TheRoad from Rurengera second is recurring intrusive thoughts and dreams that are so intense the person feels as though they are actually re-living the event. These thoughts are not linear narratives – they contain images and sensations but are fundamentally broken and isolated from the rest of the person’s experience. The third symptom is “constriction,” a sort of paralysis of the mind where the individual avoids thoughts, experiences, and situations that could evoke the intrusive memory, and also can lead people to become numb to all emotions and experiences. The use of alcohol and other drugs by people affected by PTSD may be an attempt to self-medicate themselves to numb their way out of their feelings of helplessness and terror.

Interestingly, these symptoms can lead people either to avoid situations similar to their traumatic experience or to seek them out.

Finally, PTSD dramatically affects people’s ability to function within their family and society since it inhibits one’s ability to make plans for the future and violates one’s basic sense of self-worth. Victims often blame themselves and feel guilty. Traumatic experiences can throw into doubt our notion of basic trust and belief in the nature of the community and world as fundamentally safe and positive.

Whew! But the good news is that recovery from trauma is also possible. Our three day HROC trainings help people to understand traumatic stress and to deal with it. Following Herman, they follow a three-stage process that includes re-establishing a basic sense of trust, giving space for remembrance and mourning, and reconnecting the traumatized with their self and with others in their community.

For example, my coworker Adrien returned from a HROC workshop last week in Rurengera in which a number of people had very moving experiences. One commented (in Kirundi):

These teachings have helped me so much because all that I had lost had made me unable to care about the world. I could not undertake any activity that would require effort from me for I felt that all was futile. Since the war took away my dear loved ones, I decided to get drunk every single day. It is painful, I tell you! It is after participating in this workshop that I have stopped this bad behavior because I understood what was wrong with me. I promise you that I am going back to work instead.

I hope in the coming months to share with you in more depth the experiences of those who are working to overcome their traumatic experiences.

Kibimba MemorialYesterday I traveled up country to the town of Rurengera to observe the delivery of 11 goats to some widows who lost their husbands to violence. Rurengera is about 2 hours outside of Bujumbura towards the center of Burundi, beyond the city of Muramvya.

On the way, we stopped at Kibimba to give a lift to a Friends pastor there. Kibimba was where Quakers started their first mission in Burundi in the 1934. (Read more about Quaker and AGLI involvement with Kibimba here.) Also, outside Kibimba we stopped at a shrine to honor the memory of a massacre in which over 100 the Tutsi children were burned in their classroom. The memorial reads “Plus Jamais ça!” (Never Again!)

We then made our way onto Rurengera. Although AGLI is not primarily an aid organization, a few years ago they decided that it would be worth supporting a group of widows in Mutaho, not far from Rurengera, and those widows are now passing on the favor by providing these goats. The name of the widow’s organization is Rema Ntiwihebure, or “Have courage, don’t lose heart.”

We all greeted each other with a big round of hugs, then started with a celebration in the Friends church to commemorate this happy day. There were a number of speeches, between church and local leaders, and leaders of the widows groups, and Florence and I representing AGLI. A few of them mentioned how having a “muzungu” white person, i.e., me, made the event more special, and one suggested, playing off the name of the group, that the fact of my being there should give them even greater courage.

Now I can understand when people say (as they have) that having a muzungu at a wedding makes it special since it would be special to have a Burundian in a wedding in the U.S., but here I am watching these strong, proud, widows who are moving forward with their lives after the loss of husband, and to think that my (privileged, mundane U.S. middle-class) presence should be an inspiration to them? I was a little embarrassed at the thought.

In any case, the association outlined the principles by which the goats would be cared for, on which they had decided collectively. There were 11 goats for 20 widows, so each woman would care for the goat in partnership with one other women, and the extra goat would be cared for by the church leadership. When the goats have kids (beyond replacement level?) they will be given to another group of widows to continue the gift.Receiving Goat

After formally handing over the goats, which were each given a name such as “Peace,” “Love,” “Gift,” and so on, the woman sang (above). Also, they explained that even as the goats were outwardly different – different colors, etc., they were all fundamentally goats, and they could all get along as such. Meanwhile, the goats were apparently not taking this lesson to heart, as two of them were eagerly butting heads.

Afterwards, we had a meal together in the church, which was for some people the first time they had eaten together with a muzungu, and then said our goodbyes.

On the way home, the muffler fell off but we tied it back on, and then we were stopped at a road block outside of Bujumbura. They close the roads at 5 p.m. for security reasons, and the soldiers were hoping to extract an extra few beers worth in bribes (which we would not have paid) given that there was a muzungu with us. But a truck behind us paid to get through, and when they opened the blockade to let the truck pass we just went through ourselves with no problem.

The FNL rebels and the government today jointly announced that they had reached an agreement on a ceasefire.

This is obviously good news, but given that a ceasefire was also signed in 2006 and was never implemented, there is reason to be cautious in one’s optimism. As was the case earlier, the trouble lies in the question of how to demobilize, disarm, and reintegrate the ex-combatants into society – a society struggling to heal from the trauma of war, with one of the weakest economies in the world, and facing rising food prices.

The details of the agreement haven’t been released, but is expected to include the provision of food and other assistance for the estimated 3,000 rebels.

One diplomat in Bujumbura was quoted as saying, “We’re entering a political phase and I sincerely believe that the period of conflict is behind us,” he said. “But it’s going to be very tough.”

Still, the chance that this could put an end to the conflict that has been going on since 1993, and in which more than 300,000 have died, is heartening.

Clinic-frontToday I traveled to the health clinic run by the Friends Women’s Association that I will be working with to raise funds. The clinic is run by women, and is located in Kamenge, a poor district a few kilometers outside Bujumbura.

The clinic started in 2003 in a house in another location, while the current building was constructed with the help of work camp volunteers from the U.S., Canada, Burundi, and other countries in Africa. They are now working for this site to be certified by the Department of Health so that they can resume accepting new patients. When they finish construction of a waiting room and some additional bathrooms, they can be certified to do HIV testing, and then with additional buildings they will expand their work to comprehensive HIV/AIDS care. This will include everything from treatment with antiretrovirals to psychological counseling to income generating projects.

The framework behind their work, with the acronym “REAL” includes addressing recovery, empowerment, AIDS actions, and leadership (specifically of women). Read more about the clinic here.

I don’t know if there are estimates of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in KameClinic-newbldgnge specifically, but the World Bank estimates that Burundi as a whole has an infection rate of 11.2%, and in a preliminary test of 17 people done by the clinic, 3 people were HIV positive. While that rate is nowhere near what it is in some African countries further south (with rates in the 30 or 40%), it still a major problem for development.

According to a 2005 UNICEF report, there are an estimated 250,000 children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Burundi (and also that there are 970,000 who are orphans or vulnerable children from all causes combined).

I’ve recently been reading 28: stories of AIDS in Africa in which 28 people in sub-Saharan Africa descClinic-Lab2ribe their life with AIDS and, in many cases, their remarkable efforts to help others overcome stigmatization and receive treatment. I highly recommend it. Stephanie Nolen, the author, included 28 stories to reference the estimated 28 million people currently infected with HIV/AIDS in Africa. That’s a lot of people who have a disease that can be treated effectively, even in impoverished areas, even in conflict zones, if we would commit the resources.

In other news, the FNL peace talks are continuing, but they are struggling as rebel and government forces continue to battle each other outside the capital.

See more photos here.

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