NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 22 – Burundi’s parliament on Monday criticised a proposed African Union peacekeeping mission already dismissed by the government as an “invasion force”.
Lawmakers rejected the planned force, which was proposed by the African Union (AU) last week amid growing international alarm over spiralling violence in the tiny central African nation.
In a final declaration, the parliament urged the government “not to mortgage the sovereignty” of Burundi to the AU.
“Burundi is at peace,” said Pascal Nyabenda, chairman of both the National Assembly and the ruling CNDD-FDD party whose supporters dominate parliament.
“There are troubles in just a few areas of Bujumbura,” the capital, Nyabenda said, adding that AU troops were not needed.
Other lawmakers complained of Western “interference” and biased media coverage of Burundi’s crisis, and rejected talk of a looming genocide as “rumours” with “no basis”.
The new AU force, dubbed MAPROBU — the French acronym for the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi — would have an initial renewable mandate of six months.
The 54-member AU said Friday it would send a 5,000-strong force to halt violence that has sparked fears Burundi is sliding back towards civil war.
It gave the government a four-day deadline to agree to the offer, but warned it would send troops anyway.
“Burundi is clear on the matter: it is not ready to accept an AU force on its territory,” Burundi’s deputy presidential spokesman Jean-Claude Karerwa said Sunday.
“If AU troops came without the government’s approval, it would be an invasion and occupation force, and the Burundi government would reserve the right to act accordingly.”
– ‘Brink of civil war’ –
“On ‘MAPROBU’, the people of Burundi shall have a final say,” Foreign Minister Alain-Aime Nyamitwe said before Monday’s parliamentary session, adding that the government had “full confidence” in the security forces to do their job.
Burundi descended into bloodshed in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July.
Months of street protests in Burundi have devolved into regular armed attacks with gunfire disrupting the nights and dead bodies appearing on city streets almost every day.
On May 13-14, soldiers staged a failed coup bid. Bujumbura accuses neighbouring Rwanda of training and backing rebels, claims denied by Kigali.
“Army and police have defeated all attacks from inside or outside the country,” presidential press chief Willy Nyamitwe said Monday. “It never took more than two days.”
Attacks targeting the security forces have escalated, with rebels armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars attacking police convoys and targeting government installations.
Nkurunziza is himself an ex-rebel and a born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to rule.
Last week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was dispatching an envoy for urgent talks to end the crisis, warning that Burundi was, “on the brink of a civil war that risks engulfing the entire region”.
Ban has also raised the option of deploying UN peacekeepers to quell the violence but recommended that a UN team be first sent to bolster dialogue.
US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said Monday she hoped the government’s uncompromising stance on the force was not its “final answer”.
“It is important that a mission like that be in a position to offer civilians confidence and protection,” she added.
The upsurge in violence has raised fears of a return to civil war, a decade after the end of a 1993-2006 conflict between rebels from the Hutu majority and an army dominated by minority Tutsis, which left 300,000 people dead.