African leaders in Burundi to push for peace talks

February 26, 2016 7:40 am
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Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza (R) welcomes Gabon's president Ali Bongo Ondimba (L) upon his arrival on February 25, 2016 in Bujumbura/AFP
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza (R) welcomes Gabon’s president Ali Bongo Ondimba (L) upon his arrival on February 25, 2016 in Bujumbura/AFP

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 26 – Five African leaders on Thursday launched a two-day visit to Burundi to push for talks on ending the fragile nation’s deep political crisis.

The visit comes just two days after a trip by UN chief Ban Ki-moon as part of growing international efforts to bring an end to 10 months of deadly turmoil, which has seen more than 400 people killed and forced over 240,000 to flee the central African country.

The African Union agreed to send the delegation – which is headed by South African President Jacob Zuma and includes the leaders of Ethiopia, Gabon, Mauritania and Senegal – during its January summit when Burundi successfully faced down a plan to deploy 5,000 peacekeepers to the country.

Overview
  • They were due to meet leaders from across Burundi's political spectrum later Thursday before holding talks with civil society and religious leaders.
  • A Burundi analyst underlined however that most prominent opposition and religious figures opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial re-election for a third term had fled to exile following a crackdown.

They were due to meet leaders from across Burundi’s political spectrum later Thursday before holding talks with civil society and religious leaders.

A Burundi analyst underlined however that most prominent opposition and religious figures opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial re-election for a third term had fled to exile following a crackdown.

The visiting team will then hold talks with Nkurunziza on Thursday evening before addressing a press conference on Friday.

Ban, on his first visit since the crisis erupted, met Nkurunziza on Tuesday and said he had won a guarantee that “inclusive dialogue” would begin between the government and its opponents.

But the main umbrella opposition group CNARED, whose leaders are in exile, dismissed it as a “false opening”, saying Nkurunziza did not want real negotiations.

The opposition was angered by the president’s apparent attempt to choose who should participate when he said the dialogue would include all Burundians “except those engaged in acts of destabilisation”.

Previous talks have failed, with the Burundian government refusing to sit down with some of its opponents who it accuses of involvement in a failed coup last May and months of violence including grenade and rocket attacks.

“The heads of state are coming to consult with the government and other stakeholders on the revival of an inclusive dialogue,” said an African diplomat in Bujumbura who did not want to be named.

“The issue of deploying a peacekeeping force in Burundi is not on the agenda,” the diplomat added.

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