An African Union delegation continues its visit to Burundi Friday to push parties to the Burundian conflict toward a dialogue.
The delegation, led by South African President Jacob Zuma, was expected to meet with government, opposition, and civil society leaders.
Their trip follows a visit to Burundi this week by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as part of an overall international effort to end the country’s 10-month old conflict.
Richard Moncrieff, the Central Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group, said his organization has urged the AU delegation to deliver tough messages to both President Pierre Nkurunziza and Burundi’s armed opposition, including a call for credible dialogue outside Burundi, and an end to impunity and ongoing killings.
“The government initiated the national dialogue, but we have to remember that before doing so it threw majority of serious opposition into exile by threatening them and threatening their families. In our view if the dialogue does happen, it has to happen outside the country and security guarantees needs to be offered to all sides,” he said.
Moncrieff accused the Burundian government of increasingly cracking down on the few dissenting voices left in the country and giving more prominent security positions to its Imboerakure militia.
Peace talks led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni have so far failed to yield practical results. The Burundian government has said it will not negotiate with certain opposition figures who it considers to be “coup plotters” or “sponsors of acts of terrorism”.
Burundian Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe told VOA recently that any Burundian can be part of the dialogue as long as they adhere to U.N. Security Council resolution 2248, which calls on the government and all parties to reject violence and refrain from any action that threatens peace and stability.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, right, listens as Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks during a joint press conference in Bujumbura, Burundi, Feb. 23, 2016.
Stopping a spiral of violence
Moncrieff said most of the Burundian political opposition, including CNARED, which includes members of civil society and political parties, does not advocate violence, and the government should talk to these groups.
He said the AU delegation should also put pressure on Burundi’s armed opposition to stop their attacks.
Moncrieff said in order to stop the spiral of violence and bring well-need changes, the AU High-level Delegation should revisit imposing individual sanctions against those blocking negotiation or inciting violence.
“I think unless we see very rapid progress toward dialogue, now is the time to look at the people who are most responsible for blocking dialogue and most responsible for violence and implement travel ban and assess freeze on those individuals,” Moncrieff said.
He said the African Union Commission talked last year about the need for sanctions on Burundian actors but has not implemented those sanctions.
Moncrieff welcomed the announcement recently to increase the AU observers in Burundi, but he said they should be empowered to travel freely and monitor events, thereby helping to discourage violence and abuse of power.
Moncrieff also said the option of a UN police component, as suggested recently by some UN Security Council members, should be considered.
Burundi makes a significant contribution to AU peacekeeping operations in Somalia and the UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic. Money for these troops is paid directly to the Burundian government, some of which is used to pay its Imbonerakure militia.
Moncrieff said if there is no movement in the dialogue, the African Union should consider the gradual and controlled withdrawal of Burundian contingents.
“So, the United Nations and the African Union should start now to look at replacing those Burundian troops gradually and carefully and with the due regards to the risks that that might bring, whether in Somalia or indeed in Burundi. But we feel that that’s where it needs to start unless there’s rapid progress made toward negotiations in Burundi,” Moncrieff said.
Moncrieff said while the Burundian government has made some “improvements, including for example, cancellation of international arrest warrants for those alleged to have taken part in the failed May 2015 coup, killings in Bujumbura have continued.