Tanzania has become the first East African Community member to openly support the deployment of peacekeeping troops to troubled Burundi, despite Bujumbura referring to the proposed mission “an invasion”.
During a meeting with African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma last week, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Augustine said the peacekeeping mission was essential as it would protect civilians, even as the community looked for a permanent solution to the crisis.
The two met in Durban, South Africa on Tuesday and the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia released a statement on Friday saying the leaders reiterated calls to have troops deployed to Burundi “as soon as possible”.
“The Chairperson of the commission and the Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs — bearing in mind the importance of ending acts of violence and human rights violations — urged the Government of Burundi to fully cooperate with the AU towards the early deployment of Maprobu,” it said, referring to the official acronym for the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi force.
“Both leaders expressed deep concern at the political, security and humanitarian situation prevailing in Burundi and at its consequences for regional security and stability.”
The meeting between AU boss and Dr Mahiga, previously the United Nations representative to Somalia, signifies the urge of Tanzanian Government to end tension and bloodshed that has seen more than 190,000 Burundians flee into Tanzania, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Tanzania is a member of the EAC, to which Burundi also belongs, and was to host peace talks in Arusha. The talks were postponed indefinitely when Burundi Government representatives failed to turn up.
Currently, Tanzania chairs the Council of Ministers, the community’s second highest decision-making organ.
But Dr Mahiga told reporters in Arusha on Wednesday that Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza had requested for more time before sending representatives for talks in Kampala that are being chaired by Uganda’s leader Yoweri Museveni.
“The information we have is that the authorities are still preparing to get the process off the ground,” Dr Mahiga was quoted as saying by the Citizen newspaper.
NO OTHER OBJECTIVE
The decision to send 5,000 troops to Burundi was made in mid-December by the AU Peace and Security Council, following renewed violence in which 87 people were killed.
But Bujumbura opposed the deployment, saying the government was capable of stopping the violence. President Nkurunziza went on national radio to say Burundi military would attack the AU peacekeepers because they would have invaded his country.
It is estimated more than 400 people have been killed since April when Mr Nkurunziza controversially decided to contest for a third term.
The AU did not send observers to the July election and the United States and the European Union termed it invalid after opponents were killed, fled into exile or pulled out of the race citing intimidation.
However, Burundi officials have since organised online and street protests against deployment of troops.
On Friday, AU said Dr Dlamini-Zuma and the Tanzanian top diplomat asked Bujumbura to accept the peacekeeping forces as a stabilisation plan.
“They underlined that Maprobu had no other objective than to assist Burundians overcome the challenges confronting them, in the spirit of continental solidarity and the search for African solutions to African problems,” AU said.
The AU has a policy of regional forces, meaning the East African Standby Force could be sent to Burundi.
It is not clear though which countries are prepared to send troops since there has been no clarity on the terms of such forces and whether individual countries, AU or the UN would fund their deployment.
The AU only said both leaders agreed that African stakeholders “closely coordinate their efforts and speak with one voice” on the Burundi situation.