Europe, Africa, UN move to defuse Burundi crisis

UNITED NATIONS – The international community called Thursday for urgent talks on Burundi as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on a draft resolution condemning the violence that many fear could escalate into Rwanda-style mass killings.

The United Nations, European Union and African Union agreed to convene a meeting between Burundi’s government and the opposition to be held outside the country.

“We agreed on the urgency to convene a meeting of the Burundian government and opposition representatives in Addis Ababa, or in Kampala under the chairmanship of (Uganda’s) President Museveni,” senior officials from the three organizations said in a statement.

“No effort can be spared to achieve an end to the violence and to foster a political solution,” added the statement by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, African Union chairman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

The plan for reconciliation talks came just hours before the Security Council was set to unanimously adopt a French-drafted resolution aimed at defusing the violence.

Burundi has been rocked by killings, torture and illegal detentions since President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a controversial bid to prolong his term in office in April.

International alarm over the crisis in Burundi has been mounting after repeated appeals to Nkurunziza to enter into a dialogue with the opposition fell on deaf ears.

At least 240 people have been killed and more than 200,000 Burundians have fled the country.

The resolution would put in motion UN plans to bolster the international presence in Burundi, possibly with the deployment of peacekeepers after months of turmoil.

Taking the lead, France on Monday circulated the draft resolution that threatened sanctions against Burundian leaders who incite attacks or impede peace efforts.

But a final draft released on Wednesday was watered down, stating instead that the council was prepared to consider “appropriate measures” without specifying that targeted sanctions were on the table.

The changes were to address concerns from Russia and some African countries that sanctions would not be helpful to efforts to prevent a bloodbath.

The council is set to convene at 12:15 pm (1715 GMT). French diplomats said they expected unanimous support for the draft resolution from the 15-member council.

Drawing up plans

The resolution would request that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon present options to the council within 15 days on actions that could be taken to thwart the violence.

UN officials are drawing up plans to rush peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Burundi if the violence spirals out of control.

The 20,000-strong MONUSCO force in the Democratic Republic of Congo is backed up by a rapid-reaction brigade made up of elite troops from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania that could also be deployed.

Another possibly more likely scenario is to dispatch a regional African force.

“The use of MONUSCO assets and personnel has been mentioned as one possible option,” said a UN spokesman for peacekeeping.

“While this is ultimately a matter for the Security Council to decide, a regional coalition would be well-placed to provide a rapid and credible response if the situation in Burundi worsens,” he added.

Diplomats have raised concerns about Rwanda becoming embroiled in the conflict after President Paul Kagame accused Burundi’s leaders of carrying out “massacres” on their people.

UN officials have pointed to the use of inflammatory rhetoric in Burundi as an ominous sign.

The country’s Senate president Reverien Ndikuriyo recently threatened to “pulverize” regime opponents who do not lay down arms.

“Today, the police shoot in the legs… but when the day comes that we tell them to go to ‘work,’ do not come crying to us,” he said.

The term “work” was a term used as code in Rwanda to unleash the killings of at least 800,000 mainly Tutsi people by extremist Hutu militias in the 1994 genocide.

Burundi’s civil war from 1993 to 2006 left some 300,000 people dead as rebels from the majority Hutu people clashed with an army dominated by the minority Tutsis.