Burundi Rivals Resume Peace Talks In Uganda

Burundi's Vice President Gaston Sindimwo delivers a speech on December 26, 2015 during a demonstration against the Republican Forces of Burundi (Forebu) on the shores of Lake Tanganyika near the capital Bujumbura. By Onesphore Nibigira (AFP/File)

Kampala (AFP) - Rival Burundi factions held peace talks in Uganda on Monday, resuming long-stalled negotiations aimed at ending months of violence that has raised fears of a return to civil war.

Burundi's unrest began in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July.

The talks in Uganda's presidential palace in Entebbe, just outside the capital Kampala, were chaired by President Yoweri Museveni, who is acting as regional mediator in the crisis.

"I really appeal to you, the two sides, to sit down and have a political solution so that you save the people from the suffering," Museveni said as the talks opened.

"You have no excuse not to sit down and quickly resolve... these are clear things, you can meet one afternoon and agree," he said.

However, the meeting on Monday is expected to only lay the groundwork for longer negotiations next month in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.

The 54-member African Union (AU) has said it will send in a 5,000-strong force to halt the violence, despite Burundi's government calling the proposed peacekeeping mission an "invasion force".

Burundi's Foreign Minister Alain-Aime Nyamitwe is leading the government delegation at the talks.

The opposition delegates include members of CNARED, a coalition that presents itself as upholding the Arusha peace agreement that ended more than a decade of civil war in 2006, and which its says Nkurunziza has undermined.

"CNARED requires above all an immediate end to the massacres, because we cannot negotiate while people are about to be killed," CNARED spokesman Pancrace Cimpaye said, calling for the "immediate deployment" of the proposed AU force.

Leading civil society members, including exiled human rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa and a number of religious leaders, are also taking part in the negotiations.

- 'Man made crisis' -

Burundi's government has so far refused to hold direct talks with CNARED, calling it a "terrorist organisation" and accusing it of being behind a failed coup in May as well as ongoing attacks on security forces.

Hundreds of people have been killed since April, when opponents of Nkurunziza's re-election bid took to the streets in protest.

The unrest has since devolved into recurring armed attacks, with gunfire ringing out in the capital Bujumbura by night and corpses appearing on the streets almost every day.

"Today, Burundi is at a crossroads: either the leaders and people of Burundi will invest in the peace, security, stability and prosperity that they so richly deserve, or with their eyes firmly fixed on the rear driving mirror they will continue to hurtle towards violence, political intolerance and possible civil war," said Richard Sezibera, secretary general of the East Africa Community (EAC) bloc, at the start of the talks.

Sezibera said the crisis "was neither necessary nor inevitable" but a "man-made crisis that can be resolved with dialogue."

The violence -- which has included an abortive coup, regular ambushes on security forces, street battles and even failed mortar bombings on the presidential palace -- echoes attacks carried out during Burundi's 1993-2006 civil war.

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma last week said she welcomed "the resumption of the inter-Burundian dialogue in Entebbe" and had written to Nkurunziza pleading for "the early deployment" of peacekeepers.

Source: AFP
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