Burundi president rejects UN help

Pierre Nkurunziza

Pierre Nkurunziza

Addis Ababa – UN Security Council ambassadors on Saturday turned to the African Union to map out the next steps to end violence in Burundi after President Pierre Nkurunziza rejected talks and peacekeepers.

The 15 council envoys arrived in Addis Ababa a day after meeting Nkurunziza at his residence outside Bujumbura to urge him to agree to mediated talks and an African force.

But Nkurunziza was unmoved by their appeals.

“He’s in total denial about the dangers,” said Egyptian Ambassador Amr Aboulatta on the final day of the three-day visit.

It was the second time in 10 months that the council travelled to Burundi to push for an end to the crisis.

US Ambassador Samantha Power said this time around, she noticed “much more fear” among civil society leaders, many of whom have been forced into exile.

“Urgent though the situation is on the ground, we’ve to take this in steps,” she said.

The first step will come this week when leaders at an AU summit will decide whether to endorse the peacekeeping force after the Burundian government rejected it as an “invasion army.”

If African leaders come out strongly in favour of the 5,000-strong force at the January 30-31 summit, the council will be under pressure to adopt a resolution backing the AU mission and contributing to its budget.

The Egyptian ambassador said it was “premature” to adopt a UN resolution backing the AU force and that African leaders must “reconsider their approach” after Nkurunziza turned down the peacekeepers.

Street protests, a failed coup and now a simmering rebellion began when Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July elections.

Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Petr Iliichev warned that deploying the peacekeepers could have a “negative” impact on efforts to bring the government to the table for talks with its opponents.

During the meeting on Saturday with the African Union’s peace and security council, Iliichev proposed setting up an international police mission to carry out mixed patrols in Bujumbura’s flashpoint districts.

France is pushing for the rapid deployment of 100 AU human rights monitors and military experts, part of whom could be sent to the border with Rwanda, accused by Burundi of arming the opposition.

Kigali has dismissed the allegations, but Power said there should be pressure on Rwanda “not to interfere in the very complicated” situation in Burundi.

There are currently 10 observers in Burundi and talks with the government on allowing dozens more have run into complications.

“We want to see deployment as quickly as possible,” French Deputy UN Ambassador Alexis Lamek said after the meeting at AU headquarters in Ethiopia.

African leaders will also decide at the summit whether to scrap an Ugandan-led mediation effort that has yielded just one meeting between the government and the opposition in December.

Council members were pushing for an expanded UN role in the mediation and also weighed possible financial aid as a gesture of support to the country in crisis.

There was little appetite for sanctions.

The European Union has cut off aid to Burundi and the United States has suspended its military training program in Burundi.

AU Peace and Security Council chief Smail Chergui said it was crucial the international community “remain united on Burundi”, which has been gripped by violence since April.

More than 400 people have died since then and at least 230,000 have fled the country.

Nkurunziza took a hard line during the meeting at his hilltop residence in Gitega, some two hours outside of Bujumbura, where he rejected calls for inclusive dialogue, renewed mediation efforts and an international intervention force.

“I can guarantee that there’ll not be a genocide in Burundi,” Nkurunziza said, adding that Burundi is “99 percent secure”.

Burundi is still recovering from its ethnically-charged 13-year civil war between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, with an estimated 300,000 lives lost. – AFP

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