The African Union (AU) has asked Burundi, the second largest contributor of troops to the AU force in Somalia (AMISOM), to repatriate 1,000 soldiers deployed in the Horn of Africa country by 28 February as part of a gradual disengagement programme by the mission.
This request is contained in a note- seen by AFP and authenticated by a senior official of the AU – summarizing the conclusions of the last meeting of the Coordination Committee for Military Operations of AMISOM on 30 November in Addis Ababa.
“It has been decided that the Burundi National Defence Force (BNDF, Burundian army) must reduce its contribution to AMISOM by 1,000 soldiers by 28 February 2018”, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2431, according to the text, which requests the assistance of the United Nations for this repatriation operation.
Currently, some 5,400 Burundian soldiers are deployed in Somalia, the second largest contingent of the 21,500 soldiers of Amisom, behind only Uganda at 6,200 troops.
On 30 July, the Security Council delayed by four months its plan to reduce the strength of AMISOM by 1,000 soldiers, bringing the mission to about 20,000 personnel, as part of a gradual disengagement of African troops to be replaced by a barely ready Somali army.
“Initially, each troop-contributing country was to repatriate part of these 1,000 troops in proportion to the number of troops deployed in Somalia. But as the Burundian contingent has an acute problem with (military) equipment, it was decided to repatriate only Burundian soldiers,” a senior AU official told AFP.
Deployed in 2007 to fight against the radical Somali Islamist insurgents, the Shebab, the AMISOM is composed of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
Relations between the AU and Burundi have recently deteriorated: the continental bloc has called on Bujumbura to hold talks with its opposition in exile. In return, Bujumbura organized demonstrations to denounce the AU and its Commission Chairman, Moussa Faki, accusing him of supporting the opposition.
“We know that this is a decision that was inspired by the EU to harm Burundi and unfortunately the AU has been forced to accept because it is the hostage of the Europeans who finance it in large part,” AFP quoted a senior Burundian official who requested anonymity.
The reduction in the Burundian quota should lead to a loss of revenue for Burundian public finances. According to the AU official, every three months the organization sends about $18 million to the Central Bank of Burundi to pay salaries and rent Burundian military equipment.
A sum that has become one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange, as it battles sanctions by the EU and its member countries since 2016.