Burundi to top agenda at AU summit
Burundi is set to top security talks at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa over the next few days after its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, again said he did not want the organisation’s proposed peacekeeping force imposed on his country. His rejection on Friday came only a day after South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane revealed that Burundian special envoy Pascal Nyabenda told President Jacob Zuma that Nkurunziza might accept the 5 000 peacekeepers.
Briefing journalists this week on Zuma’s meeting with Nyabenda, Nkoana-Mashabane said Nyabenda indicated that, “if there is a need for a protective force to take care of citizens while negotiations are taking place, they will consider that”.
She said, however, that South Africa supported the AU’s stance that Burundi should give consent for the deployment of the force, saying: “There will never be an invading force coming from the African government.”
The issue would be finalised at the AU summit, she said.
South Africa is likely to become part of the protracted mediation effort led by the East African Community and headed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The South African government, represented by then deputy president Zuma, played an important role in getting Burundian leaders to sign a peace agreement at the end of its seven-year civil war in 2000.
Nkurunziza told a delegation from the UN Security Council visiting Burundi this week that the AU “must respect Burundi as a member state and we must be consulted” on the deployment of peace troops, Voice of America reported online.
The UN Security Council has pushed for international human rights observers and peacekeepers to be allowed into Burundi, amid reports of escalating violence following elections six months ago.
US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told reporters after the meeting that the delegation “did not achieve as much, frankly, as I think we would have liked”.
In an effort to persuade Burundi to accept the AU peacekeepers, the AU Peace and Security Council this week proposed, in a concept of operations, that the AU’s protection mission in Burundi – apart from protecting civilians, political figures and those involved in the peace talks – would also have a duty to guard against “potential infiltration by foreign militia”.
Burundi recently accused Rwanda of supporting foreign rebel groups, allegedly hiding in refugee camps in Rwanda, but Rwanda denies this.
According to the Red Cross, more than 232 000 people have fled Burundi since violence erupted after Nkurunziza’s announcement in April that he intended to stand for a third term. Of those, most are in Tanzania, but 77 000 have fled to Rwanda.
Stephanie Wolters, head of the conflict prevention and risk analysis division at the Institute for Security Studies, this week wrote in the organisation’s ISS Today that South Africa had a duty to become involved in Rwanda because it was a “key champion of the African Charter on Democracy and Human Rights”, which saw the AU move from a position of non-interference to one of non-indifference.
She also said “the proposed deployment is an example of Africa taking charge of its own issues and finding African solutions to African problems – a leitmotif of the South African government, and [AU Commission chair Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma”.
Other issues that will come up at the AU summit, which for the first time will be about the issue of human – and, in particular, women’s – rights, include terrorist attacks on the continent, the funding of the AU, and elections and constitutionalism.
Heads of state will also gather on the sidelines in a bid to revive the flagging African Peer Review Mechanism, the brainchild of former president Thabo Mbeki and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
A summit called last year by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was cancelled at the last minute so that it could be held on the sidelines of the AU summit.
He said at the time that this was so that nonmember states could also attend and perhaps be persuaded to join.
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