AU discusses deployment of peacekeeping troops to Burundi

African Union leaders meet ahead of vote on potential deployment of peacekeeping troops in crisis hit Burundi

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Burundian police officers patrol as military leaders accused of planning a failed coup arrive at the Court of Appeal in Gitega, east of the capital Bujumbura, January 4, 2016.

African Union (AU) efforts to approve a peacekeeping force for the troubled country of Burundi face challenges as leaders meet ahead of a groundbreaking vote on the potential deployment of 5,000 troops.

Talks at the AU Peace and Security Council stretched late into Friday night in a bid to narrow positions before the opening of a summit meeting Saturday, with attendance from presidents and foreign ministers from across the 54-member bloc as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

Some African states oppose sending peacekeepers to Burundi without the country's government's consent after its president said such a move would be treated as an invasion, Gambia's president said on Saturday, the first day of an African Union summit.

Burundian Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe insisted he had the backing of other nations in opposing such a force.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza had announced his intention to run a controversial third term in presidency which he went on to win in July, leading to a failed coup, street protests and a simmering rebellion from Burundi’s citizens against him.

"We have said that the deployment of this force is not justified, and we gave the reasons for this rejection, that we believe the situation in the country is under control," Nyamitwe said.

Burundi risks a repeat of a 1993-2005 civil war, the UN warned.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon warned African leaders Saturday of the need for action in troubled Burundi at a summit hoping to end armed crises across the continent.

"Leaders who stand by while civilians are slaughtered in their name must be held responsible," Ban said, adding the crisis in Burundi required the "most serious and urgent commitment."

The United Nations has documented witness testimony on mass graves in Burundi, with reported cases of security forces gang-raping women opposition supporters, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Friday.

A pattern of security forces allegedly entering victims’ houses, separating women and raping or gang raping them had been documented by the UN, Zeid added.

Violence has worsened in the country with 439 people being killed and 200,000 displaced since President Pierre Nkurunziza, the former leader of an ethnic Hutu rebel group, said he would stand for a third term as president.

S.Sudan war and terrorism 

A two-thirds majority in the AU's Peace and Security Council would be required to create the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, MAPROBU. It remains unclear which countries would be willing to contribute troops to the proposed mission.

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 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.

Ban also warned of the need for action amid stalled talks to end the war in South Sudan.

"Leaders in South Sudan have again failed to meet a deadline to form a transitional government," Ban said. "Instead of enjoying the fruits of independence, their people have endured more than two years of unimaginable suffering."

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 the negotiations were deadlocked, with violence ongoing and fears of a potential famine.

"As far as we're concerned, the implementation of the peace process still remains on track," Nhial said.

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.

Chad's Deby new AU president

Chad's President Idriss Deby also took over as AU chairman, replacing Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe in the one-year ceremonial post.

Deby told fellow presidents that conflicts across the continent had to end.

"Everything that we are doing now will be in vain and without purpose if we allow Africa to go through these perpetual crises: South Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Burundi, the Sahel, the Lake Chad basin," Deby said.

"Through diplomacy or by force, we must put an end to these tragedies of our time."