Burundi defiant as Africa leaders debate peacekeeping force
30 January 2016, 19:38
Addis Ababa – African Union efforts to approve a peacekeeping force for troubled Burundi faced tough challenges as leaders met ahead of an unprecedented vote on the potential deployment of 5 000 troops.
Talks at the AU Peace and Security Council, attended by presidents and foreign ministers from across the 54-member bloc as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, stretched late into Friday night in a bid to narrow positions before the opening of a summit meeting on Saturday.
AU Peace and Security Council chief Smail Chergui warned "the stakes are indeed high", but Burundi remained defiant in its opposition to a mission it calls an "invasion force".
Burundian Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe insisted he had the backing of other nations in opposing such a force, and replied to the question as to whether he had support with an emphatic: "Yes, very strong, you will see."
Street protests, a failed coup and now a simmering rebellion began when Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July elections.
"We have said that the deployment of this force is not justified, and we gave the reasons for this rejection, that we believe that the situation in the country is under control," Nyamitwe said.
With Nkurunziza unmoved by AU and UN appeals, there have already been moves to water down the proposed military force to that of an observer mission.
The UN has warned that Burundi risks a repeat of a 1993-2005 civil war, with some 400 dead since April and at least 230 000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries.
South Sudan war and terrorism
"It is not only Burundi that is resisting this idea.... most interveners in a country are not welcomed," Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said.
Jammeh, asked whether he also would oppose a military deployment, said: "Without the consent of Burundi, yes."
A two-thirds majority will be required to send the force, the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, MAPROBU. It remains unclear who would be willing to contribute troops.
However, the AU charter's Article 4h gives the pan-African bloc the right to intervene in a fellow nation state "in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity."
The summit at AU headquarters in Ethiopia is expected to open around 11:00 (08:00 GMT).
The AU's Peace and Security Council also discussed efforts to combat terrorism on the continent and the devastating two-year war in South Sudan, which grinds on despite an August peace deal.
Like Nkurunziza, South Sudan President Salva Kiir is also not expected to attend the summit on Saturday.
But Nhial Deng Nhial, South Sudan's government negotiator in peace talks, dismissed concerns negotiations were deadlocked, with violence ongoing and fears of potential famine.
"As far as we're concerned, the implementation of the peace process still remains on track," Nhial said.
The conflict now involving multiple militia forces who pay little heed to paper peace deals and are driven by local agendas or revenge attacks.
Tens of thousands have died in the war, more than 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes and 3.9 million South Sudanese face severe food shortages.