20 February 2017

Burundi: Another Stalemate Hits Intra-Burundi Talks

Photo: The Citizen
Army soldiers stand near a barricade surrounded by a crowd of protesters (file photo).

The Intra-Burundi dialogue led by former Tanzania president Benjamin Mkapa has been thrown into a disarray once again after the government and one opposition group said they would not participate in the talks set for Thursday.

The Burundi government said the talks breached a requirement in the UN Security Council Resolution that only "peaceful stakeholders" would be engaged in the discussions meant to find a lasting solution to the country's political crisis.

The National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord (CNARED), a group of opposition mainly in exile, disowned the talks, saying Mr Mkapa is biased having yielded to pressure from government to exclude some leaders from the talks.

These hardline positions have put Mr Mkapa-led team between a rock and a hard place, given that the government has also accused it of inviting to the talks Jamaal Benomar whom the government views as a criminal.

"Contacting these law-breakers is an insult to the government of Burundi. Inviting someone like Jamaal Benomar is totally unacceptable," Jean Claude Karerwa, President Pierre Nkurunziza's spokesman told The EastAfrican.

Jeremiah Minani, CNARED communication officer, said the group would only go to Arusha to renew its calls to the UN and the Africa Union to look for another mediator.

"We are not taking part in his negotiations. We are sending a delegation there to remind Mr Mkapa that we don't recognise him as a facilitator... We keep calling on him to step down," said Mr Minani.

He said the group lost confidence in Mr Mkapa when he allegedly said that those being sought by the government on various charges related to the 2015 coup attempts would not be invited to the talks.

Mr Karerwa affirmed the Burundian government's longstanding position that it would not sit at the same table with the opposition leaders who are already wanted by the country's court for the crimes committed in 2015.

Last year, Burundi government officials walked out of the meeting room in Arusha, saying the opposition members invited to take part in the negotiations were those it accused of plotting the failed May 2015 coup against President Nkurunziza.

However, Burundi government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba said Mr Mkapa had done tremendous work to find a lasting solution to the political crisis.

He told the international community to respect the country's sovereignty and also to enforce the UNSC resolution that only "peaceful stakeholders" be engaged in the dialogue.

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