26 June 2010

Burundi: EA Issues Sanctions Threat

Nairobi — East African leaders have threatened to impose sanctions on Burundi if the country's elections set for Monday occasion violence.

Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang'ula said the region had agreed to bar politicians and citizens from travelling to member countries if violence erupts after the presidential election to be Monday.

"The region will take very unkindly any acts or omissions by individuals or groups of people or politicians that will slip Burundi back into violence," he said.

The minister said the sanctions will make sure that poll violence in the region is "confined to history."

Addressing a news conference in his Nairobi office just moments after arriving from his Burundi trip, Mr Wetang'ula said the country was now experiencing "isolated" incidents of violence.

He said grenade attacks on crowds at political rallies have since subsided.

The threat of sanctions comes within the week that the ministers from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda met Burundi officials in Bujumbura to pass the terse message from their leaders.

In Monday's election, the incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza, will be running unopposed after the opposition boycotted the election citing doubts about the competence of the electoral commission.

The country's Vice President Dr Yves Sahinguvu's party has also boycotted the elections.

Burundi, Mr Wetang'ula said, had changed their electoral body three times within two years, and the current one discredited by the opposition, was formed and endorsed by both the opposition and the government.

The threat of sanctions comes at a time when the region is gearing for the inauguration of the Common Market on July 1. It could be seen as a move by the region not to start on the wrong footing by opening up trade at a time when one of its members could be drifting into conflict.

"We were given a firm assurance that security organs are on full alert; the police are well equipped to deal with organised violence. It is unlikely that the events of 2008 violence in Kenya may occur in Burundi. We didn't get that impression," he said.

The regional bloc, Mr Wetang'ula said, had endorsed the district elections carried out on May 21 as free and fair, so the opposition had no grounds to complain.

He said the opposition had agreed to participate in the parliamentary and senate elections to be held in July.

"They gave us a clear impression that they'll reconsider their positions," said Mr Wetang'ula.

There has been apprehension that there is a real risk of post-election violence in the country -- still smarting from a history of genocide and assassination of three presidents over the last decade.

"If we want to grow as a region, we don't shun our neighbours who are undergoing difficulties. We need to bring them in so they learn from our practices," said the Foreign Affairs minister.

"This is the only way we can be able to move forward. If you shun them, then you compound the problem," he added.

The regional democracy is now under focus because critics readily agree that a boycotted election cannot be said to be democratic.

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