EU calls for urgent Burundi talks after mass killings

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

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has called on Burundi’s government and opposition to meet outside the strife-torn country in a bid to stop a succession of killings and massive displacement.

Speaking at the Valletta migration summit in Malta on Thursday (12 Novemner), Mogherini joined forces with United Nations and African Union to appeal for the peace talks, fearing what she called a “deep regional crisis”.

The bloodshed since the spring has raised fears of another wave of massacres like in neighbouring Rwanda in the 1990s.

>>Read: Europe readying sanctions against top Burundi officials

The UN Security Council is expected to unanimously adopta French-drafted resolution later today, aimed at ending violence in Burundi that many fear could escalate into Rwanda-style mass killings.

At least 240 people have been killed and more than 200,000 Burundians have fled the country since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a controversial bid for a third term in office.

“We agreed on the urgency to convene a meeting of the Burundian government and opposition representatives in Addis Ababa, or in Kampala under the chairmanship of (Uganda’s) President Museveni,” Mogherini said in a statement also signed by, African Union chairman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

“No effort can be spared to achieve an end to the violence and to foster a political solution.”

“Alarmed by the widening divisions, the threat for many more lives and a deep regional crisis, we pledged to work closely together and to mobilise all our means and instruments to prevent a further deterioration of the situation,” the officials added.

According to Amnesty International, there are daily reports of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and torture.

On Monday (9 November), Sarah Jackson, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for East Africa, said: “Incendiary rhetoric from top officials is fuelling fears that the already tense situation in Burundi could spiral out of control, leading to mass killings.”

According to Amnesty, last month the President of the Senate, Reverien Ndirukiyo, said that the police would soon go “to work”. He urged officials to identify people in their neighbourhoods who could be targeted by the police.

The use of the phrase “to work” – “gukora” in Kirundi – is disturbing as it was used to incite attacks during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

On Sunday (8 November), Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, also implored Burundi not to repeat the ethnic violence that his country endured 21 years ago.

Unrest erupted in Burundi 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.

>> Read: Tensions grow as Burundi leader clings to power

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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