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UN Chief: Burundi President, Opponents Agree to Hold Talks


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, listens as Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks during a joint press conference in Bujumbura, Burundi, Feb. 23, 2016.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has agreed to begin talks with the opposition to bring an end to a nearly year-long political crisis.

Ban announced the breakthrough Tuesday after meetings with Nkurunziza, opposition leaders and civil society groups in the capital Bujumbura. The U.N. chief said that all sides had promised to engage in "inclusive dialogue."

"Burundi's political leaders must be ready to summon the courage and the confidence that will make a credible political process possible," Ban said during a joint news conference with Nkurunziza.

The Burundian president said in his statement that he is ready to meet with his opponents and said he is releasing political prisoners as a demonstration of good will.

"Everyone knows that Burundians always come together when it comes to talks," Nkurunziza said. "We have shown our commitment with the announcement to free 2,000 prisoners, excluding those accused of disturbing the peace."

FILE - A soldier patrols a street after a grenade attack in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, Feb. 3, 2016.
FILE - A soldier patrols a street after a grenade attack in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, Feb. 3, 2016.

The Burundian leader also called on the United Nations to help persuade Rwanda to end its support of Burundian rebels. Rwanda has denied allegations that it is training and arming rebels opposed to Nkurunziza.

Ban's visit comes a month after a U.N. Security Council delegation traveled to Burundi to press for negotiations among Nkurunziza and his opponents.

Burundi has been mired in a sometimes violent political crisis since April of last year, when Nkurunziza sought and won what is widely seen as an unconstitutional third term.

Observers fear the violence – which has killed more than 400 people and caused 230,000 more to flee the country – could tip into another civil war or worse in the ethnically mixed Hutu-Tutsi nation.

After leaving Burundi Tuesday, Ban headed to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for the second part of an Africa tour that will also take him to South Sudan.