After a week of silence, EAC states pushed into heart of Burundi crisis

Protesters run across a fire towards police lines in the Musaga neighbourhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, on May 4, 2015. East African heads of State will meet in Dar es Salaam next week, on May 13, over the political crisis in Burundi, Tanzania’s foreign minister announced here on Wednesday evening. AFP PHOTO | PHIL MOORE

What you need to know:

  • Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, who is the current chairperson of the East African Community, sent the foreign ministers to Burundi on a fact-finding mission and to find ways in which the region can help the EAC member state from sliding into further unrest.
  • At least 16 people were injured in fresh protests on Wednesday, according to the Red Cross as police fired tear gas and live bullets to break up barricades and protest marches.
  • EAC member states have been criticised for a slow response to the crisis in Burundi

BUJUMBURA

East African heads of State will meet in Dar es Salaam next week, on May 13, over the political crisis in Burundi, Tanzania’s foreign minister announced here on Wednesday evening.

Mr Bernard Membe and his counterparts, Louise Mushikiwabo (Rwanda) and Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, made the announcement while meeting politicians opposed to Mr Nkurunziza seeking a third term in office.

Uganda was represented by its ambassador to Burundi, Major-General Matayo Kyaligonza.

The heads of State will be trying their own hand at peace-making, after a week of silence and watching the international community try and fail to resolve the political stand-off

More than 10 people have been killed since the anti-third term protests broke out last Sunday and the number of people fleeing into neighbouring countries has risen to over 30,000, according to aid agencies, most of them into Rwanda.

“We dislike violence and when there is violence anywhere or indicators of violence, the leaders have a duty to meet and resolve that violence,” Mr Membe told opposition politicians at a hotel in Bujumbura, after delivering a similar message to President Nkurunziza at State House.

Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, who is the current chairperson of the East African Community, sent the foreign ministers to Burundi on a fact-finding mission and to find ways in which the region can help the EAC member state from sliding into further unrest.

RUN FOR RE-ELECTION

The country’s constitutional court ruled on Tuesday that Mr Nkurunziza is free to run for re-election, a position rivals say violates the country’s constitution which imposes a two-term limit on the presidency, and the Arusha agreement which ended more than a decade of civil war in the country in which an estimated 130,000 people were killed.

Protestors, opposition politicians and the United Kingdom government have all rejected the court ruling, which was overshadowed by revelations by the court’s vice president that he had fled into exile after coming under pressure, including death threats to approve Mr Nkurunziza’s candidature.

At least 16 people were injured in fresh protests on Wednesday, according to the Red Cross as police fired tear gas and live bullets to break up barricades and protest marches.

“What we want is President Nkurunziza to respect the Arusha Accord that brought peace to our country,” a protestor in Kibenga, a suburb of the capital, Bujumbura, said, as he fled from a police onslaught.

Explosions were heard on Wednesday morning in Kanyosha, another city suburb, but it was not immediately clear what caused them and who was responsible for them.

Mr Membe told opposition politicians that the team of ministers had been sent to establish whether, in the aftermath of the court ruling, a peaceful, credible, free and fair election could be held in the country.

“In posing those problems and seeking answers, we are cognisant of the fact that Burundi is a sovereign state,” he said. “It is neither the intention of Tanzania or any EAC member state to intervene in the internal affairs of Burundi.”

SLOW RESPONSE

EAC member states have been criticised for a slow response to the crisis in Burundi.

Rwanda’s statement on Tuesday, in which it expressed concern about the insecurity and its potential spill over impact, was the first public comment on the matter by a member state of the regional grouping.

President Kikwete’s decision to send a ministerial delegation, however, has now put the EAC at the heart of the effort to negotiate a solution to the crisis.

A two-day meeting called by donors between the rival parties was called off on Wednesday, its last scheduled day, to allow the parties meet the EAC ministers.

Additional reporting by Moses Havyarimana in Bujumbura

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