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UN Security Council visits Burundi to press for peace

AFP | Samantha Power (R), US ambassador to the UN, shakes hands with her Burundian counterpart, Albert Shingiro at Bujumbura airport on January 21, 2016

UN Security Council ambassadors were to meet Burundi’s president on Friday after another night of violence in Bujumbura left one person dead and another wounded by gunfire.


The 15 council members were greeted by pro-government demonstrators telling them to stop meddling when they arrived in Bujumbura Thursday to push for an end to months of violence, triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would seek re-election, that has left hundreds dead.

A local official and witnesses said a youth was shot dead by police after a grenade went off in Bujumbura’s northeastern Mutakura district and a second person was injured by gun shots.

Explosions and gunfire were heard in the central Bwiza district, in southern Musaga neighbourhood and in the north of the city, residents said.

The council is making its second visit to Burundi in less than a year, and will deliver a face-to-face message to Nkurunziza to take urgent action to stop the violence.

More than 400 people have died since the troubled central African country descended into turmoil in April, when Nkurunziza announced his ultimately successful re-election bid, and at least 230,000 have fled to neighbouring countries. The UN has warned that the violence could escalate into ethnic killings and mass atrocities.

Council envoys will be pushing for the government to hold serious talks with the opposition, accept a more energetic outside mediation and agree to an international presence such as African Union peacekeepers to restore stability.

Uganda hosted a meeting between the government and the opposition in December, but there has been nothing since.

Hundreds of pro-government demonstrators lined the road leading from the airport to greet the envoys with signs that read “genocide will not happen” and “stop interfering in Burundian affairs”.

Talks and peacekeepers

At the meeting to be held at the president’s residence outside of Bujumbura, the council hopes to persuade Nkurunziza to agree to an African Union proposal of 5,000 peacekeepers, which his government has branded an “invasion force”.

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed “the fervent hope” that the UN ambassadors will “contribute toward achieving” the rapid deployment of the peacekeepers and the “immediate resumption of the inter-Burundian dialogue”, in reference to stalled talks between the government and opposition.

The United States and France support the proposal, but other council members such as Russia, Angola and Egypt are reluctant to put too much pressure on the government.

Nkurunziza is also balking at AU plans to deploy more rights monitors in Burundi while the United Nations is beefing up its presence in Bujumbura.

Council envoys travel to Addis Ababa on Saturday to meet with AU officials about the proposal that is expected to be a key element of talks at an AU summit in Ethiopia on January 30-31.

On Thursday, two former Burundian presidents appealed to the council ambassadors to take action and pleaded for an AU force to be sent to the country.

“We really need that force,” said Domitien Ndayizeye, who led the landlocked nation from 2003-2005.

Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, in power from 1976 to 1987, urged the council envoys to “stop this bloodletting that is making our young people disappear”.

Bagaza warned that without urgent international action, Burundi could “become another Rwanda case”, referring to the neighbouring country’s 1994 genocide.

Hours before the UN diplomats arrived, Burundian rebels named a fugitive ex-general who fled after leading a failed coup bid in May as their leader.

The rebel force, which announced its formation in December, calls itself the Republican Forces of Burundi, or “Forebu” after its French acronym.


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