The U.S. special envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region has called for an immediate, internationally mediated dialogue to help resolve the crisis in Burundi.
“We all know, if left alone, this is going to get even worse,” Thomas Perriello told VOA’s Central Africa service. “Time is not our friend in finding a peaceful solution in Burundi. We believe the sooner the talks start, the better.”
Perriello, who returned to Washington this week from a trip to Burundi, urged the government to commit to a good-faith, inclusive dialogue in which all Burundians are represented, including those who fled the country to escape persecution or violence.
“It is going to be incumbent on President Pierre Nkurunziza and his government to show willingness to join those talks without preconditions,” Perriello said. “There is a political crisis, a humanitarian crisis and a security crisis. We see escalating violence each night in certain neighborhoods of Bujumbura, both against and by police officers and state security forces.”
Burundi erupted in unrest after Nkurunziza declared in April that he would seek a third term over the objections of critics who said he was violating the two-term limit in the constitution and the Arusha Accords that ended the country's civil war.
Weeks of violent protests followed, and military officers launched a failed coup attempt in May while the president was outside the country. The president won a new term in a July election that was boycotted by the opposition.
Recently, the president signed a decree forming a commission that would oversee an "inter-Burundi" dialogue.
While Perriello thinks all forms of talk are valuable, he said Burundians want a dialogue that has a chance of bringing peace to their country.
“Everyone in Burundi would be better off if the constitution had been respected, if the Arusha agreement had been respected. And here we are instead with a government that is incredibly fragile, lives being lost. So it’s time to get back on the right path which involves an inclusive dialogue, and I think that is what the people of Burundi want,” Perriello said.
Early this month, the European Union imposed travel restrictions and an asset freeze on four Burundians whose activities it said were undermining democracy or obstructing efforts to achieve a political solution to the crisis.
Perriello said the United States supported the European Union and African Union in pursuing targeted sanctions.
“What the U.S has tried to do is to give the best advice,” he said. “If that advice had been taken a year ago, we would be talking about targeted investments, not targeted sanctions. We would be talking about Burundi as a model, not as a cautionary tale.”
Perriello called upon all actors in the region to be part of finding a constructive solution.
“We do hope that we will see that leadership and resolution come from the East African community,” he said.