Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza has invited people who fled the country during violent political unrest two years ago to return home.
Nkurunziza extended the invitation Thursday during a visit to Tanzania, his first trip outside Burundi since a coup attempt on May 13, 2015.
The U.N. refugee agency says Tanzania currently hosts more than 240,000 Burundians, most of them living in camps near the two countries' shared border.
Nkurunziza met with Tanzanian President John Magufuli in the Ngara district. The two men addressed a large crowd, in which Nkurunziza, speaking Kiswahili, delivered his appeal.
“Today I want to tell Tanzanians and Burundians that Burundi is now peaceful and I am inviting all Burundi refugees to return home,” he said.
Magufuli reiterated Nkurunziza's appeal and said he has asked Tanzania's interior minister to stop granting citizenship to Burundians, arguing that the process encourages them to settle in Tanzania.
Magufuli said he is not kicking out Burundians, but rather wants them to go home and participate in building their country.
President's visit questioned
Opposition leaders downplayed the importance of President Pierre Nkurunziza's visit.
Leonard Nyangoma, former chairman of the opposition coalition CNARED and current chairman of the opposition party CNDD, described the visit as a non-event.
“We learned that President Pierre Nkurunziza crossed the border to an adjacent town in Tanzania. First of all, it is not far from Burundi and secondly, the trip does not imply that his fears of being toppled are over,” he said in an interview with VOA's Central Africa service.
Nyangoma suggested that inviting all the refugees to come home was unwise.
"You don't invite refugees to return home because when and if peace finally returns to Burundi, the flow of refugees voluntarily returning home will be so huge, the Interior Ministry will have a hard time accommodating them all,” he said.
2015 elections boycotted
Burundi erupted in protests and violence after Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term in 2015. Critics said he was violating a two-term limit in the constitution. The president won an election mostly boycotted by opposition parties, but violence prompted more than 420,000 Burundians to flee to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Talks to resolve the situation have made no progress, in part because the government will not talk to politicians it accuses of playing a role in the failed coup.
Spokesperson Jean Claude Karerwa Ndenzako characterized the president's visit to Tanzania as successful. He said he did not know whether Nkurunziza will attend the next round of inter-Burundian dialogue.