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US Envoy: Burundi Talks Off to Good Start


FILE - A soldier patrols the streets after a grenade attack in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, Feb. 3, 2016. Burundi has been plagued by violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term last year.

FILE - A soldier patrols the streets after a grenade attack in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, Feb. 3, 2016. Burundi has been plagued by violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term last year.

The latest round of talks to end Burundi's political crisis was "a positive step," according to Thomas Perriello, the U.S. special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region.

Perriello spoke to VOA's Central Africa service from the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha on Tuesday as the four days of talks concluded.

Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa facilitated the talks, aimed at ending protests and violence that began when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term last year. Previous discussions led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni made no progress.

Perriello said the latest discussions were "high on substance and high on listening," and praised Mkapa's political skills.

“I think, given the stakes in Burundi, it was good to see the facilitator play that role so well,” he said.

He also praised Mkapa for getting the Burundian government and some of the opposition figures to come to the table, although several opposition groups, including CNARED, an umbrella group that includes exiled politicians and former government officials, were absent.

CNARED Chairman Jean Minani was one of those not present. “I was not invited,” Minani told VOA.

FILE - Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa attends a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Oct. 11, 2012. His role as facilitator at recent peace talks on Burundi has earned him praise.

FILE - Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa attends a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Oct. 11, 2012. His role as facilitator at recent peace talks on Burundi has earned him praise.

Facilitator praised

In his closing remarks Tuesday, the facilitator promised to meet with those who did not attend the talks.

“In the next two weeks, I will continue and complete the consultations with those who did not come during this session,” Mkapa said.

Special envoy Perriello said he was happy with how the facilitator moved quickly to make himself available to meet with all stakeholders.

“One of the ways you judge a process like this is not by whether everything goes perfectly but how the facilitator and the team react,” said Perriello.

The next round of talks is expected during the third week of June.

Burundi has been mired in a yearlong crisis in which more than 450 people have been killed. More than a quarter of a million people have fled to neighboring countries.

Perriello urged Burundian leaders to put the interest of their country ahead of any other particular interests they may have.

“I think the facilitator is creating the space for a genuinely inclusive dialogue — which is not to say there have not been missteps along the way. I think this week was overall an indication toward some hope that that could work,” he said.

He said getting people together to talk will help “start to rebuild relationships of trust and lines of communications that you hope solutions will emerge” from.

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