The U.S. is urging African leaders to use an upcoming regional summit to focus on unrest in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term has sparked weeks of protests and an attempted coup.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said Friday that African leaders have leverage in Burundi’s crisis.
In a VOA interview, she said leaders should use Monday’s International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to look at finding a solution, which could include meeting with President Nkurunziza in Burundi. The 12-nation conference, which includes Burundi, will meet in Angola.
“It is important that the region play a role,” said Thomas-Greenfield.
“It is important that the region lead and I do think the region has influence over the president,” she added.
Thomas-Greenfield also said the U.S. has leverage.
“I think our voice makes a difference so we are making sure that views are heard at every level, not just with the government but with the people of Burundi,” she said.
Thomas-Greenfield said the anti-government protests and the attempted coup were a “strong, strong reaction” to the president’s decision to seek a third term.
“In the interest of moving Burundi forward and not allowing Burundi to go backward, we have encouraged the president not to pursue a third term,” she said.
Burundi descended into to chaos in April, after President Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a third five-year term, a move that his critics say is unconstitutional.
Clashes between protesters and police have left at least 14 people dead. The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have fled from the country.
The U.S and other world powers have raised concerns that President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term violates the Arusha Agreement, an accord that brought peace to the country following a 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.
The agreement sets a two-term limit but the president and his supporters say a third term would be permitted because he was elected by parliament, not voters, for his first term.
In a Friday briefing, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the president’s decision to run again would “continue to exacerbate instability, and potentially foment violence.”
“This threatens the viability of the Burundian government, and increases the risk of violence and insecurity that could threaten donor support,” said Rathke.
Thomas-Greenfield on the scene
Thomas-Greenfield was among officials attending an East African Community meeting in Tanzania, this week, where officials had planned to voice their concerns to President Nkurunziza.
However, the president abruptly left the session on Wednesday, after Major General Godefroid Niyombara, a former Burundian intelligence chief, announced President Nkurunziza had been relieved of his duties.
As cheering supporters lined the streets, President Nkurunziza returned the capital, Bujumbura, on Friday. He said there was “peace all over the country” in the wake of the failed coup attempt.
He said there was peace in the capital “where the coup-makers had been operating.”