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Civil Groups Angered by Exclusion From Burundi Peace Talks

FILE - Burundi policemen patrol the street following a grenade attack in Bujumbura, Burundi. Among the groups not invited to the Arusha talks is the National Council for the Restoration of the Arusha Accord, also known as CNARED.

The leader of a coalition of nearly 118 civil society groups in Burundi said nothing positive will come out of the current peace talks going on in the Tanzanian city of Arusha as long as key stakeholders are excluded.

The talks are being facilitated by the East African Community (EAC).

Among the groups not invited to the Arusha talks is the National Council for the Restoration of the Arusha Accord, also known as CNARED.

Burundi’s Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe has in the past accused CNARED of involvement in violence. The group has denied that label, accusing the government instead of being the perpetrator of violence.

Vital Nshimirimana of the Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society (FORSC) said President Pierre Nkurunziza only wants to talk to those who do not oppose his regime. “[President] Nkurunziza has initiated an internal dialogue which we called a monologue because he is talking alone; he’s speaking to people who cannot challenge him, and internally they are proposing an amendment to the constitution to repeal the core provisions of the Arusha Peace Agreement,” he said.

Nshimirimana said his group wants to know from the facilitator of the Arusha talks whether his group was not invited because it had organized mass protests to oppose the third term of President Nkurunziza and to force him to respect the Arusha Accord.

The Burundian crisis began last April with President Nkurunziza's decision to seek a controversial third five-year term, something the U.S. and Nkurunziza’s opponents say violates the constitution and the 2000 Arusha Peace agreement that brought Burundi’s civil war to an end after about 300,000 people died in the fighting.

Burundian foreign minister Alain Nyamitwe told VOA recently his government was not pleased with the choice of CNARED to represent all opposition parties to the talks.

Nyamitwe said his government will not negotiate with certain opposition figures who it considers as “coup plotters” or “sponsors of acts of terrorism”. He said CNARED has been involved in violence and has no popular following.

“Our government is open to talk with all political actors who are peaceful. If you go by the international organization’s pronouncements on Burundi, both have come up with a clear indication as to which category of people should be around the table and those ones have to be peaceful. We’re not making that up. It’s in resolutions 32, 48 and 2279,” Nyamitwe said.

But the opposition has blamed the Burundian government for thousands of deaths.

“This is a narrative of attempting to escape the reality on the ground. The international community, all human rights observers, the media can testify that the security forces are committing crimes against humanity, some acts of genocide. All these things are not committed by the opposition of civil society activists in exile,” Nshimirimana said

Nshimirimana said nothing positive will come out the Arusha talks unless the facilitator engages what he called the real stakeholders.

“What can they expect when the opposition is not on board? What do they expect when armed groups are not on board? What can they expect when civil society groups are not on board?”