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Rights Groups: Burundi's Government Not Interested in Talks

by Jill Craig January 07, 2016

Peace talks between Burundi's government and opposition groups were postponed Wednesday, without being rescheduled. A senior foreign affairs official said the government will not speak with those it says are "supporting violence."

Arusha, Tanzania, was supposed to be the location for peace talks between Burundi's government and opposition groups Wednesday, after discussions opened last month in Uganda.

But the talks were cancelled, with no future ones on the horizon, adding to the problems for a country that has been experiencing unrest since April of last year.

Carina Tertsakian, Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Burundi and Rwanda, said a sense of urgency seems to be absent.

"It is certainly regrettable that the different parties do not seem to be able to come together and I would say on the government's side, the government does not seem to be acknowledging the urgency of the need to take measures to stop the violence," she said.

Tertsakian noted there has been violence committed by both the government and opposition, but the government needs to admit its role.

"In particular, it is not accepting responsibility for the conduct of its own security forces who have killed many people in Burundi since the crisis began. Instead, it is wholesale blaming the opposition groups for all the killings that are going on in Burundi, even though much evidence points to the contrary," Tertsakian said.

Peacekeepers rejected

Last month, the African Union announced it would send 5,000 peacekeepers into Burundi to stop the violence. President Pierre Nkurunziza responded that 'everyone has to respect Burundi borders.' Otherwise, he said, the country would consider itself under attack and fight back.

Many people hoped the president's remarks would be further discussed at the Arusha talks, but International Crisis Group central Africa project director Thierry Vircoulon said it was likely just an empty threat.

"Well, I think that actually, the African Union [has] threatened Burundi to deploy a peacekeeping force that it is does not have, and therefore the threat is not credible.... I mean, there are two problems. The first problem is the political approval by the member states, and the second problem is that this peacekeeping force does not exist," Vircoulon said.

Regardless of what the international community does to try to resolve the crisis, Vircoulon said he does not believe government officials have much incentive to negotiate.

"Despite the fact that the regime is already under stress, and especially financial stress, they have not moved. They have not made any concession or any kind of thing. And because they are radicals, and they are ready to go to the end.... and unless they are put under tremendous pressure, they are not going to change," Vircoulon said.

The talks were intended to help stem the violence in Burundi, where at least 400 people have been killed since Nkurunziza announced he was running for a controversial third term in April. He won re-election in July, in a poll boycotted by the opposition.

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