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African heads in Burundi to push for peace talks

African heads in Burundi to push for peace talks


A delegation of five African leaders arrived in Bujumbura on Thursday at the start of a two-day visit to push for talks to end Burundi’s deep political crisis.

The visit comes just days after a trip by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to Burundi as part of growing international efforts to bring an end to 10 months of deadly turmoil in the central African country.

The African Union agreed to send the delegation — which is headed by South African President Jacob Zuma and includes 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.

Ban, on his first visit since the crisis erupted, met President Pierre Nkurunziza on Tuesday and said he had won a guarantee that “inclusive dialogue” would begin between the government and its opponents.

But the main umbrella opposition group CNARED, whose leaders are in exile, dismissed it as a “false opening”, saying Nkurunziza did not want real negotiations to bring peace.

The opposition was angered by the president’s apparent attempt to choose who should participate when he said the dialogue would include all Burundians “except those engaged in acts of destabilisation”.

Previous talks have failed with the Burundian government refusing to sit down with some of its opponents who it accuses of involvement in a failed coup last May and months of violence including grenade and rocket attacks.

Burundi’s upheaval 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.

Violent attacks have become routine, raising fears of a return to the civil war fought between 1993 to 2006 in which around 300,000 people died.