Addis Ababa: African leaders met today in a bid to end armed crises, including in troubled Burundi, with an unprecedented vote on deploying a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force despite Burundi’s vehement opposition. While the official theme of the African Union (AU) meeting is human rights, leaders are again dealing with a string of crises across the continent during two days of talks at the organisation’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.
Talks at the AU Peace and Security Council, attended by presidents and foreign ministers from across the 54 member bloc, stretched late into Friday night in an attempt to narrow positions before the formal summit opened today. AU commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma opened the summit by commemorating AU peacekeepers killed in “efforts to silence the guns”, amid fierce backroom debate on whether to send a new force to Burundi.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that “leaders who stand by while civilians are slaughtered in their name must be held responsible,” and said the crisis in Burundi required “most serious and urgent committment”.
He said the UN backed the AU’s proposal “to deploy human rights observers and to establish a prevention and protection mission” in Burundi. Ban also warned of the need for action amid stalled talks to end war in South Sudan. “Leaders in South Sudan have again failed to meet a deadline to form a transitional government,” Ban said. “Instead of enjoying the fruits of independence, their people have endured more than two years of unimaginable suffering.”
Neither Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza nor South Sudan President Salva Kiir are believed to be attending the summit. “Leaders must protect their people, not themselves,” Ban added.
AU Peace and Security Council chief Smail Chergui warned “the stakes are indeed high”, but Burundi remained defiant in its opposition to a mission it calls an “invasion force”. Burundian Foreign Minster Alain Nyamitwe on Friday insisted he had the backing of other nations. Asked whether he had support of others in opposing the proposed force, Nyamitwe said, “Yes, very strong, you will see.”
Street protests, a failed coup and now a simmering rebellion began when Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July elections.
Hundreds have died and at least 230,000 have fled the country in the months since.