FILE - Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union Commission.
FILE - Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union Commission.

The African Union has threatened to place sanctions on Burundi's rival political factions if they fail to attend peace talks next month, as it pushes all sides to resolve their differences and avert more violence.

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said sanctions could be placed on anyone "whose action could jeopardize the inter-Burundian dialogue," including attacks by armed groups or refusal to communicate with the talks' mediator.

Representatives of the government and the political opposition are slated to meet January 6 in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss ways to avoid more of the political violence that has plagued the country since late April.

But the government and opposition, who met Monday in Uganda, are at odds about how to resolve their differences, and the government has rejected the African Union's plan to send 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi to protect civilians.

Uganda Vice President Edward Sekandi , second left
Uganda Vice President Edward Sekandi , second left, front row, Uganda Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, right, and East African Community, Secretary-General Dr. Sezibwera, second right, pose with others, during Burundi peace talks, at Entebbe State House, Dec. 28, 2015.

On Wednesday, President Pierre Nkurunziza said if the peacekeepers arrive without Burundi's permission, he will consider that the country has been attacked, and will respond accordingly.  "Everyone has to respect the borders of Burundi," he said.

On Monday, deputy presidential spokesman Jean-Claude Karerwa told reporters the peacekeepers would be considered "an invasion and occupation force."

Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairman of the African Union Commission, said Monday that the AU cannot remain passive if Burundi fails to formally respond to the plans for a peacekeeper deployment. He said, "If the situation continues, the African Union and international community cannot sit by and watch genocide if it is going to develop."

Violence broke out in Burundi in late April, after President Nkurunziza announced controversial plans to run for a third term in office, provoking arguments about whether that was prohibited by the constitution. He ran in July and won the election, but the political outcry has been deadly. Some 400 people are believed to have died in clashes since April.

Men carry away a dead body in the Nyakabiga neighb
Men carry away a dead body in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, where a number of people were found shot dead a day after the government said an unidentified group had carried out coordinated attacks on three military installations, Dec. 1