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UN's Ban Presses African Union for Peacekeepers in Burundi

by VOA News, Marthe van der Wolf January 30, 2016

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told African Union heads of state Saturday that peacekeepers were needed to stem escalating violence in Burundi, despite repeated warnings from the Bujumbura government that any AU units on its territory would be considered an invasion force.

Ban's comments came as AU leaders meeting in Addis Ababa prepared to vote on the deployment of 5,000 peacekeepers to stem political violence that erupted last year when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term.

Since then, international data show more than 400 people have been killed in Burundi, with new witness accounts of mass graves near the capital. Those accounts were bolstered Friday when Amnesty International published satellite imagery showing five possible mass gravesites near a location where government security forces were accused of killing scores of people in December.

Saturday's closed-door AU talks extended through the day, and it was not clear when a vote would be taken.

A two-thirds majority of the 54-member union is required to deploy a peacekeeping force.

'I applaud you for taking collective responsibility and acting decisively' to ease the crisis, Ban told summit attendees.

Nkurunziza is not attending the summit, but Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe said Saturday that Bujumbura had the backing of other African nations in opposing peacekeepers. When asked for details of that backing, Nyamitwe described it to the French news agency AFP as 'very strong. You will see.'

The AU meetings were also expected to address new reports of sexual abuse allegations leveled at U.N. peacekeepers and foreign troops deployed in the Central African Republic.

The U.N. human rights office said Friday that it had found six more cases of suspected sexual abuse against children in the CAR, including allegations from a 7-year-old girl who said she was forced to perform sexual acts on soldiers in exchange for food and water.

U.N. rights chief Anthony Banbury, speaking Friday, said there were likely to be 69 confirmed allegations of sexual abuse or exploitation against members of the U.N.'s 16 peacekeeping missions currently deployed around the world.

The United Nations can report abuse allegations, but countries where those personnel are deployed are responsible for prosecutions.

The AU summit will wrap up on Sunday evening.

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