BURUNDIAN President Pierre Nkurunziza said Wednesday he would fight proposed African Union peacekeepers if they set foot on Burundian soil, defying intense global pressure to accept the force.
“Everybody should respect the borders of Burundi. If the troops are in violation of this decision, they will have attacked Burundi, and each Burundian must stand up to fight them,” Nkurunziza said in a speech broadcast on state radio.
“The country will have been attacked, and we will fight them.”
The 54-member African Union gave Burundi a four-day deadline on December 17 to accept a 5,000-strong force to halt months of violence, pledging to send troops even though Burundi said it was opposed to an “invasion force”.
The small central African country descended into bloodshed in April when Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term in a July election that he went on to win.
“You cannot send troops to a country if the United Nations Security Council has not accepted it… the UN resolution says the international community should respect the independence of Burundi,” Nkurunziza said in one of his strongest speeches yet following the unrest.
Burundi is still recovering from an ethnically-charged civil war between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, which cost an estimated 300,000 lives between 1993 and 2006.
The violence — which has seen hundreds killed and included an abortive coup, regular ambushes on security forces, street battles and even failed mortar bombings on the presidential palace — echoes attacks carried out during the civil war.
“When there are two warring forces then you can have a peacekeeping force,” Nkurunziza said.
“But this is not the case here, because we are facing a security problem. It is not a political issue, because this was resolved by the elections.”
Rebels last week said they had formed a force “to protect the population” and uphold the Arusha Agreement that paved the way to the end of the civil war but which they say Nkurunziza has violated by his controversial third term in power.
Earlier this month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that deploying UN peacekeepers to Burundi was an option to quell the violence.
AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has written to the UN Security Council asking for “full UN support including the authorisation of a support package” for the force, the AU has said.
The proposed force, the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, is known by its acronym in French, MAPROBU. No details of possible troop contributing nations have been given, or any timeline for its deployment.
Burundian troops themselves are a key contingent in the AU force in Somalia, AMISOM, as well as the UN mission in Central African Republic (CAR).
Nkurunziza’s speech came shortly after the AU repeated threats of sanctions if violence continues as it pushed for the swift deployment of the force.
Burundi’s government and opposition, who met in Uganda on Monday, are due to meet again in January in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha for talks aimed at ending months of violence.
Ugandan officials said talks would resume on January 6 but the Burundi government delegation said “no consensus” had been reached on the date.
“All those whose action could jeopardize the inter-Burundian dialogue, including attacks by armed groups against governmental facilities and other targets, as well as refusal to respond to the invitation of the mediator, shall be subjected to sanctions,” Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement seen Wednesday.
She gave no further details of possible sanctions, which have been threatened before, but called for “unreserved cooperation” with the peace process “in order to put an end to the violence.”