Ugandan mediators in the on-going Burundi crisis have cautioned President Pierre Nkurunziza’s administration to accept African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops.
Uganda’s Minister of Defense Crispus Kiyonga, who also serves as acting facilitator of the Burundi crisis, said Bujumbura’s threat to attack AU peacekeepers is a mistake.
On Friday, Kiyonga said as a member of the AU, Bujumbura should express its dissatisfaction with the decisions of the regional body appropriately.
“To threaten to shoot at an African force is not right, for an African to say he will shoot at an African force that’s a mistake,” he explained. “We are all members of the AU and we are bound by its resolutions. If one is not satisfied with AU’s decision, they can challenge it through proper channels, like through the AU summit.”
His statement comes two days after both representatives of Bujumbura and the opposition failed to attend peace talks. The regional talks were scheduled to take place in Arusha, Tanzania.
Despite reports of a collapse of the peace talks organized by the East African Community (EAC), Kiyonga stressed that Bujumbura was committed to the negotiations. He said officials failed to show up due to disagreements over which members of the opposition should be present for the negotiations.
Burundi is still recovering from an ethnic civil war between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. About 300,000 people were reportedly killed in the conflict which lasted from 1993 to 2006.
Burundi degenerated into widespread violence in April after President Nkurunziza announced a controversial decision to run for a third term. More than 200,000 people have reportedly fled the country since May following an abortive coup against Nkurunziza.
The AU has pledged to stop the violence, which reportedly targets unarmed civilians, by sending a 5,000 strong peacekeeping force. However, President Nkurunziza has rejected the AU’s proposal in a national radio broadcast. He insisted that the peacekeepers would be treated as any invasive force if they enter Burundi.
“Everyone must respect Burundi’s borders. In case they violate those principles, they will have attacked the country and every Burundian will stand up and fight against them,” he warned. “The country will have been attacked and it will respond.”
Nkurunziza’s statement has been criticized by the AU and members of the international community who fear an escalation of the situation may degenerate into civil war.
The AU deadline for Bujumbura to accept the peacekeeping troops has passed. However, the continental body is yet to respond. The AU has never deployed peacekeepers without permission from the host government of the country where the forces are being sent to. Although its laws cover such an action, the AU is still mulling its next move.
The issue of Burundi’s crisis is expected to take center stage in an upcoming AU summit. The meeting is scheduled for Ethiopia at the end of this month.