EU fears more violence in Burundi, vows to directly assist the population

Protest against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. Brussels, April 2015. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

The European Union, strife-stricken Burundi’s biggest aid donor, today (15 February) warned the country could face “appropriate measures” if it does not remedy its human rights record.

Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza in July won a third term, which the opposition said was illegal and in breach of an accord ending a horrific 1993-2006 civil war which left 300,000 dead.

EU foreign ministers said talks with Burundi under the Cotonou agreement, which lays down strict rules for mutual cooperation including the promotion of human rights, had failed to resolve Brussels’ concerns.

“The EU will adopt the appropriate measures necessary in view of the lack of positive signals,” a statement said.

The statement gave no details of measures envisaged at a time of almost daily bloodshed in the small central African country.

“The fact is that consultations … were not able to remedy Burundi’s failure to respect essential elements of the partnership,” it said.

The European Union said the government’s full participation in talks with the opposition “is essential”.

“Any other step towards de-escalation and political opening will also be a very significant positive signal,” the foreign ministers said.

“The EU, which is one of Burundi’s main development partners, confirms its willingness to continue its support for the Burundian population through its development activities,” it added.

EU aid programmes for Burundi over the period 2014-20 are worth some €430 million and any threat to them would be serious for the poor country beset by growing violence.

An EU diplomatic source told AFP on Friday that the bloc was considering the suspension of direct aid to Burundi’s government in light of the worsening situation.

EU may restrict Burundi ties over rights concerns

The EU said it could restrict its ties with Burundi to humanitarian aid after talks which finished late on Tuesday failed to resolve its concerns over human rights in the restive central African country.

A grenade blast on Monday killed a child and wounded at least 30 people in the latest in a string of attacks, Burundi officials said.

Security forces, rebels and the opposition all blame each other for the hundreds of killings since last year.

Unrest erupted in Burundi at the end of April, against a bid by president Pierre Nkurunziza to cling to power for a third term.

The president, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian, has been in power since 2005. Opposition figures and rights groups say his attempt to stay put goes against the constitution, as well as the peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006.

The violence has plunged the nation into its worst crisis since the end of the civil war that pitted rebels from the majority Hutu ethnic group against minority Tutsis, who once led the army. The military is now a mixed force.

The police crackdown on protests has provoked Western rebukes of a nation which relies on aid to meet half its budget. The European Union and Belgium individually halted aid earmarked for supporting elections, saying that the conditions were not right for a fair vote.

European states are the biggest contributors to the budget, while the United States provides support to the army.

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