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US Senator Calls for Incentives to Facilitate Burundian Dialogue

FILE - Burundian police and soldiers guard a deserted street in Bujumbura, Burundi.
FILE - Burundian police and soldiers guard a deserted street in Bujumbura, Burundi.

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin has called for a redoubling of international efforts to support a political solution to the Burundian crisis.

Cardin, a Democrat from the state of Maryland said the United States and its international partners should provide the right incentives for Burundians to do that.

But speaking Tuesday in Washington, Cardin said no international effort can be a substitute for a commitment by Burundians themselves when it comes to finding a way forward in their country.

He said the United States should take other meaningful actions in pursuit of a peace agreement, including helping the African Union finalize contingency plans for an African-led mission to prevent widespread violence in the country.

He said it is imperative to put in place mechanisms for accountability for those who have engaged in extra-judicial killings in Burundi.

“Those who have committed these atrocities must be held accountable. We cannot allow those who perpetrate these crimes to go unpunished,” he said.

In October, the African Union Peace and Security Council called for dialogue among Burundian stakeholders and the deployment of additional human rights monitors, and threatened sanctions against those who contribute to the escalation of violence in Burundi and act as spoilers to a political solution.

Senator Cardin credited the Obama administration for being actively engaged in preventive action and diplomacy.

On November 23, President Obama issued an executive order sanctioning four individuals whose actions have been threatening the peace and security of Burundi.

He also announced that as of January 2016, Burundi will no longer be eligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Meanwhile, a Burundian official said his country is ready for dialogue with all Burundians in and outside the country.

Willy Nyamitwe, senior advisor on media and communication to President Pierre Nkurunziza, said the government has already appointed a 15-member commission to facilitate that dialogue.

FILE - Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. is seen during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.
FILE - Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. is seen during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.

But Nyamitwe said U.S. sanctions imposed last month on four Burundians are punishing those who, he said, are working every day to restore peace and security in Burundi.

“What I wanted to emphasize is that the U.S. administration has imposed sanctions on some Burundians, but among them is a minister in charge of security who has been working day and night to restore peace and security in the country and a high ranking person in police who has also been working hard to restore peace and security. So you cannot put in the same box plotters and the persons who have been fighting against terrorists in the country,” Nyamitwe said.

Nyamitwe said Burundi has been a victim of a “vast campaign of distortion of information.” He singled out some in the Obama administration, including Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as being one of those leading the campaign.

He said that contrary to reports of widening violence, there is no chaos in Burundi.

“Everything is under control and the disarmament campaign is successful. Every day weapons are being seized from the civilians. If you come in the country you see that all the parts of the country are at peace and criminality is decreasing. So that means everything is under control. But we are fighting against some terrorists who continue to throw grenades or to kill some civilians,” Nyamitwe said.

The Burundian crisis began last April after President Nkurunziza's decision to seek a controversial third five-year term, something the United States and Nkurunziza’s opponents say violates the constitution and a peace deal that brought Burundi's civil war to an end after killing some 300,000 people.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday he was prepared to send peacekeepers to Burundi to quell the violence, but only if other options failed.

Among the options described by the U.N. chief was the establishment of a political mission to monitor human rights, the support of political dialogue and lay the possibility of a peacekeeping operation.