The African Union will send 100 human rights monitors and 100 military monitors to Burundi, South Africa’s president said on Saturday, after a trip to the tiny nation that is facing its worst crisis since a civil war ended a decade ago.
Jacob Zuma, delivering a statement by a delegation of African leaders that he led, did not say when the monitors would arrive or start work in the country, where more than 400 people have been killed since April. Zuma left Bujumbura after the remarks.
The violence has rattled a region with a history of ethnic conflict. Burundi’s civil war, that ended in 2005, largely pitted two ethnic groups against each other. Neighbouring Rwanda was torn apart by genocide in 1994.
We believe strongly that the solution to Burundi's political problems can be attained only through inclusive and peaceful dialogue
Western powers have urged Africans to act. The United States and European nations have withheld some aid to poor Burundi and taken other steps to try to put pressure on the government to resolve the crisis, but they say it has had little impact.
“We believe strongly that the solution to Burundi’s political problems can be attained only through inclusive and peaceful dialogue,” Zuma said in the statement, which also expressed “concerns” about the level of violence and killings.
The decision to send monitors suggests a compromise had been reached with Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, who triggered the crisis in April when he announced a bid for a third term. He went on to win a disputed election in July, in the face of street protests and violent clashes.
The new initiative falls far short of the African Union’s plan announced in December to send a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force, which Nkurunziza’s government rejected.
Details about the new mission were not immediately clear. Diplomats said other African monitors that had been sent to Bujumbura last year had been stuck in their hotel unable to work because Burundi refused to sign a memorandum allowing them to operate.
Burundi’s government has previously said it was ready to for dialogue, but opponents say it has always set preconditions on who would attend and what could be discussed that made such discussions pointless.
Talks sponsored by nearby Uganda in December had been planned to continue in Tanzania in January. But the initiative stumbled at the start of the year when the government said it would not attend as some participants had been behind violence.
For their part, opponents accuse government forces of targeting and killing members of the opposition.
The statement by African leaders said Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni would convene dialogue with “all important stakeholders as soon as possible.” It did not say when.