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Burundi: Stalled talks to restart in mid-January, peacekeeping force by consent, says Tanzania foreign minister

media Mahiga talks to Richard Sezibera, Secretary General, East African Community … Photo: Filbert Rweyemamu/AFP

Stalled mediation on the crisis in Burundi could restart in just over a week’s time, Tanzania’s foreign minister has told RFI. Augustine Mahiga said on Thursday that there were questions about the availability of Burundi’s foreign minister as well as the agenda, composition and venue for the Ugandan-led mediation. Talks to help resolve the crisis in Burundi sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third term were expected in Arusha, Tanzania on 6 January. However, Burundi’s government said no consensus had been reached on the date. There are also questions about the role of a proposed African Union peacekeeping force which was to be sent to Burundi. In mid-December, the AU gave the government a four-day deadline to accept a force to halt the violence. Authorities in Burundi called it an “invasion force” and Nkurunziza said AU peacekeepers would be attacked if they stepped foot on Burundian soil. The deadline passed and no further action has been taken to deploy the 5,000-strong force.

Mahiga told RFI on Thursday that Tanzania’s government thinks there is scope for an AU force to be deployed in Burundi, but only with the consent of Burundi’s government. In a separate interview with RFI on Wednesday evening, Smail Chergui, the AU’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, said the proposed African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) is intended to stabilise the country, not invade it. Chergui said the AU will further consider options at its disposal as discussions continue to agree on a new date for further dialogue.

Interview: Augustine Mahiga, foreign minister, Tanzania

When do you expect dialogue to restart?

We are expecting after the 15th [January] and the reason I’m saying after the 15th is because the minister for foreign affairs of Burundi is still on leave in Brussels and he’s not coming back to Burundi until maybe after the 15th. But the mediator, the minister from Uganda, Minister Kiyonga, has been invited to go to Bujumbura for discussion on the agenda, on the composition of delegations and on the venue. So we hope he’ll only be going to Bujumbura when the minister for foreign affairs of Burundi comes back to discuss this. And even in the last conversation with the minister he said he’s only coming back after the 15th so we hope that we can agree on a date after he comes back, after the 15th. So really I cannot say now, and even if he comes back on the 15th or after the 15th we still have to discuss those three issues, the issue of the agenda, the issue of the composition of the delegations from both sides - from the opposition, the government and the party – confirmation of whether it should be in Entebbe or Kampala or Arusha. So we need to discuss with the Burundian authorities on those three issues after the minister comes back from Brussels.

What do you think about the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping mission?

I’ve just had a very long discussion with Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Madame Zuma, in Durban two days ago and we agreed that there is a need for the African Union to go back and have the consent of the Burundians. From our part, we think there is a role for the African Union deployment there, but maybe in a modified way that will be supportive to the Burundian authorities. Maybe with a police component in it and we think there are three main areas where there could be a partnership between the Burundian authorities and the African Union. One is on the protection of civilians and in that aspect I think that the police can have a more relevant role. And the other one is to assist the Burundians in the protection of vital installations in the country which have been attacked on and off by opposition elements. The other area is the disarmament process which the Burundian authorities are engaged with and I think the African Union deployment could be extremely helpful. There is need for discussion between the African Union and the Burundian authorities, and we Tanzanians are really going to help. When we discussed with Madame Zuma we agreed that the options must remain open and even if the peace process begins there may be a need for some kind of deployment to secure a secure space so that the political discussions can continue whatever the venue is going to be. We Tanzanians are very open-minded about it, we think there is a role, but it has to be essentially decided between Burundi and the African Union.

Interview: Smail Chergui, commissioner for peace and security, African Union (produced by Carol Valade)

How do you interpret this refusal by the Burundian authorities to accept the AU peacekeeping force?

I think that they’ve taken a position which wasn’t based on a true understanding of this force. And, I would now like to seize the opportunity to remind you that it’s not a force of occupation, but a stabilisation force. So, the objective is to protect people and among other things to respond to rumours about weapons, the arrival of rebels, etc. It’s really an act of love towards Burundi.

If Bujumbura continues to refuse, does this mean the mission will be cancelled?

No, obviously the final word will come from the Peace and Security Council at the next African Union summit, which has other provisions in its constitution at its disposal, which enables it, in times of crisis, to take other decisions. But we aren’t at that point yet.

For you, dialogue must restart without delay?

We’re not only calling for the resumption of dialogue, but that it can move forward quickly because we know what we’re dealing with. So, I take this opportunity to again state our complete rejection of these violent acts, targeted killings or extrajudicial executions, whoever is behind them. All these acts are inadmissible and unacceptable.

But for the moment, there’s no date fixed?

I can assure you that efforts are underway. We’re involved in consultations with countries in the region, with the Tanzanian government and all the other concerned countries to set a date to resume dialogue, which I recall, is inevitable and must be inclusive. Serious discussion is ongoing as I speak to you, to set a new date for dialogue.

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