TENSIONS in Burundi remain high after the President, Pierre Nkurunziza, vowed last week to fight any African Union (AU) peacekeepers who set foot in the country.
“Everybody should respect the borders of Burundi,” he said on state radio on Wednesday of last week. “If the troops are in violation of this decision, they will have attacked Burundi, and each Burundian must stand up to fight them. The country will have been attacked, and we will fight them.”
The AU has said that it will send 5000 peacekeeping troops to Burundi, with or without the government’s consent. This is the first time that it has invoked its powers to intervene in a member state against its will.
A fact-finding mission commissioned by the AU in December reported in its preliminary findings “great concern” about violence in the country. Since April, when President Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a third term, at least 400 people have been killed, and 220,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
Last month, church sources described how the discovery of the corpses of young people on the streets and in rivers was fuelling terror and fear in the capital (News, 18/25 December). The Security Council was warned by a group of UN independent experts that the country was “going towards an unacceptable path of atrocities”.
They spoke of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, attacks on independent media, the harassment and killing of human-rights defenders, and “unjustified limitations on freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression”.
Shortly before Christmas, rebel groups announced that they had formed a united opposition to the government: the Republican Forces of Burundi (“Forebu”).
Peace talks, which began in Uganda on 28 December, were due to continue in Tanzania on Wednesday, but the government said this week that it would not take part.
The UN Security Council has called for “urgent acceleration of mediation efforts” by East African states, and urged Burundian stakeholders to “fully co-operate” with the proposed peacekeeping mission.