The Peace and Security Council of the African Union plans to meet Friday to review the latest reports on the situation in Burundi, following concerns that the escalating violence could plunge the country into chaos.
The turmoil in the Central African country has forced about 210,000 refugees to flee to neighboring countries including Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Both the African Union and the United Nations have warned that if not resolved, the security situation in Burundi could destabilize the country and affect the entire region.
But, in a recent interview with VOA, Burundi Foreign Minister Alan Nyamitwe said it’s erroneous for people to conclude that the political and security challenges the country currently faces could lead to genocide similar to what Rwanda experienced in 1994. He denied the country is in flames following escalating violence after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a controversial third term.
“They have a tendency to compare with the situation which prevailed in Rwanda in 1994. We have to be very clear, there is no trend in Burundi that indicates that Burundi is heading to genocide in the scale or in the nature of what happened in Rwanda,” said Nyamitwe. “Everybody is unanimous to recognize the fact that the conflict, if there is any conflict in the country it has no ethnic tone. You have people who have opposed the president and you have Hutus and Tutsis among them. You have people who have supported the president and you have Hutus and Tutsis among them. So, what we need to do is to calm down the situation vis-à-vis the way we address the population.”
Officials say the AU has representatives in Burundi monitoring the situation on the ground.
The African Union Commission's deputy chairman, Erastus Mwencha, says the Peace and Security Council meeting will review the reports and come up with recommendations to help the AU’s decision about the next step forward to help resolve the crisis in Burundi.
“It would be receiving reports about the situation in Burundi, and of course we look forward to the decision. The Peace and Security Council of the African Union has remained sensitive with the worrying situation in Burundi and has already made a number of recommendations, and has been working with the region and has also made available offers on how to assist Burundi," said Mwencha.
Burundi civil society and opposition groups have called on the African Union to impose targeted sanctions on members of the government whom they accuse of masterminding the administration’s stance of refusal to hold talks with opposition groups. They contend that the sanctions will pressure the government to find solutions to end the escalating security challenges.
“There are concerns that some belligerents have been issuing inflammatory statements and are not willing to come to the table, and unfortunately, this is the case of both sides; the government and the opposition," Mwencha said. "But our call still remains that there is still a window of chance for Burundi to make peace, to come round the table and build peace for the people of Burundi, because, we are now at a precipice of crisis if that is not well managed.”
Critics of the government have called for international intervention. They also called on the African Union to lead the effort to restore peace and stability in the country.
Mwencha says the AU will be working with its international partners to help resolve the Burundi crisis.