Burundi’s government is to blame for the collapse of the latest round of peace talks aimed at resolving the country's political and security crisis, according to Vital Nshimirimana, leader of the group Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC).
Nshimirimana spoke out about the talks, which had been intended to resume this week in Tanzania, after members of the government delegation said they would not meet with groups they blame for a failed coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Willy Nyamitwe, a special presidential adviser, tweeted Wednesday that those accused of backing the failed coup "cannot be invited to the talks.” That effectively ended the chance for any talks now in Arusha.
Civil society leader Nshimirimana says the Nkurunziza administration was wrong to bar its opponents from talks aimed at resolving the yearlong crisis in Burundi, which grew out of the president's decision to seek a third term in office.
“We are saying that the government of Nkurunziza is not willing to sit with other Burundi stakeholders to negotiate peace to settle the Burundian conflict, which has resulted in [tens] of thousands of deaths and injured dozens of thousands,” Nshimirimana said.
Turning the tables
“Even Nkurunziza himself, [at] the time he was a member of the rebel movement, he was sentenced to death, but the region and Burundians agreed to actually have him on board. They listened to him and voted for him and let him to run the country [for] two constitutional terms," the civil-society leader said. "Now Nkurunziza has made a coup against the constitution and the Arusha agreement, and he is pretending that his opponents are the ones who wanted to overthrow him.”
FILE - A woman holds up a picture of Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza during a rally in Bujumbura on May 14, 2016, commemorating the one-year anniversary of what government supporters see as a failed coup attempt.
Supporters of the government rejected Nshimirimana’s views and said the administration was right to close the talks to some members of the National Council for the Restoration of the Arusha Agreement and Rule of Law (CNARED), on the grounds that they plotted to undermine Burundi’s territorial integrity. They maintain that no government the world over negotiates with terrorist groups.
“It is not up to the government to choose with whom to talk... about peace," Nshimirimana said. “And we cannot believe that the peace talks can deliver without these stakeholders on board.”
Separately, Nshimirimana condemned the murder of Hafsat Mossi, a former Burundian minister and government spokesperson who was shot to death Wednesday near her house in the capital, Bujumbura. He said Mossi's death indicates the administration in Bujumbura has abdicated its core responsibility of protecting citizens' life and property.
Mossi formerly was Burundi's minister for East African Community affairs, and was chairman of the East African Legislative Assembly's Burundi chapter.
“It is up to the government to protect all the citizens, and mainly those high-profile politicians and those in national positions," Nshimirimana said. The Nkurunziza government said an investigation of her killing is underway.