African leaders to conclude Burundi peace push visit

Bujumbura, Burundi, Feb 26, 2016 (AFP) – Five African heads of state met with Burundi’s president in Bujumbura on Friday at the end of a two-day visit to push for talks to end the country’s political crisis. The delegation’s visit came just days after a trip by UN chief Ban Ki-moon as international efforts to bring an end to 10 months of deadly turmoil are stepped up. Ban secured a promise of “inclusive dialogue” from President Pierre Nkurunziza. The African Union agreed to send the delegation — headed by South African President Jacob Zuma and including 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.

Burundi’s crisis was triggered by Nkurunziza’s controversial decision last April to run for a third term which he won in an election in July. Over 400 people have been killed since April while more than 240,000 have left the country and violent attacks have become routine, raising fears of a return to the civil war fought between 1993-2006 in which around 300,000 people died. On Thursday the African leaders met with opposition representatives and on Friday with an ex-president before joining talks with Nkurunziza later in the day.

One opposition leader, Charles Nditije of the UPRONA party, cast doubt on the AU delegation’s intent. “We are disappointed because, listening to President Zuma, we felt that these heads of state came to consolidate Nkurunziza in his third term,” he said. But Leonce Ngendakumana of the FRODEBU party was more positive. “The key for me is that they have realised that Burundi’s crisis is very deep and they support the principle of a dialogue under international mediation and outside the country,” Ngendakumana said, adding that he had hardly expected the heads of state to come to Burundi to oust Nkurunziza.

But other influential opposition leaders remain in exile. Previous talks, mediated by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, have failed, with the Burundian government refusing to sit with some opponents who it accuses of involvement in a failed coup last May and of months of violence including grenade and rocket attacks.

The issue of who might be involved in talks remains a sticking point even as the violence continues. In the latest incidents at least four grenades were thrown overnight Thursday with another explosion in a Bujumbura market on Friday injuring at least six people.

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