Uganda's president has begun mediating talks between Burundi's government and opposition groups that are opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial bid for a third term.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met with representatives of the Burundi government and opposition leaders in Bujumbura late Tuesday. In remarks before talks began, Museveni urged Burundi's leaders to strive for unity and said sectarianism was a threat to development. He also said he was happy that the government had disarmed a pro-government youth militia accused of committing serious crimes, including the killing of perceived opponents.
The East African Community, a regional bloc, appointed Museveni to facilitate a political dialogue in Burundi ahead of presidential elections scheduled for July 21.
Burundi has been on edge since April, when the country's ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to be its presidential candidate for a third term. The president's opponents say a third term would violate the constitution and the accords that ended Burundi's civil war in 2005.
With only a week to go before the election, it is uncertain how effective Museveni's visit will be, said Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for International Crisis Group.
“In addition to the fact that the main issue, which is the third term of President Nkurunziza, is non-negotiable, you have a clear divide within the region,” said Vircoulon.
Vircoulon said the absence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame from EAC meetings on Burundi was a sign that the region is not united in its approach.
Meanwhile, there are concerns the opposition, which has boycotted the upcoming poll, could turn increasingly violent.
Nkurunziza already survived a coup attempt in May. A former military commander who supported the coup has been threatening further action.
“It's very clear that armed opposition has already started in Burundi. What is going on is fairly obvious now, and there's not much room for dialogues at this stage,” said Vircoulon.
Burundi's army said Monday that it had killed 31 suspected rebels and captured 170 others in fighting in the country's north, but the leadership of the suspected rebels remains unclear.
More than 70 people have been killed since March in Bujumbura in protests in which demonstrators have clashed with police.
The United Nations says more than 160,000 people have fled Burundi for neighboring countries.
Some information for this report came from AP.