East African leaders have called on Burundi to postpone elections. A government spokesman said it was open to the request in the face of violent protests sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term.
East African Community (EAC) leaders met in Tanzania on Sunday and called on Burundi's government to use the time before the delayed elections to create an environment conducive for the polls.
"The summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half," the EAC said in a statement read out by its secretary general Richard Sezibera.
Heads of states from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa attended the meeting in Dar es Salaam. Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Nyamitwe represented Burundi and East African Community minister Valentine Rugwabiza represented Rwanda.
There have been violent protests in Burundi since current President Pierre Nkurunziza announced a bid for a third term in office in April. The constitution states a two-term limit.
Burundi's parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 5, while presidential elections are set for June 26.
The EAC also called for the immediate disarmament of all youth groups affiliated with political groups and asked Burundi's leadership to exercise restraint and to ensure the right environment for refugees to return home. More than 90,000 people have fled ahead of polls.
The EAC statement called "on all parties to stop violence" and for "the creation of conditions for the return of refugees" who have fled the turmoil.
Burundi government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba told AFP: "The Burundian government welcomes the proposal of the heads of state" to delay the elections. He said that the EAC had not discussed the controversy over Nkurunziza's bid for a third term, as it was a sovereign issue.
The EAC did not call on Nkurunziza to abandon his re-election bid. Opposition groups expressed disappointment and urged supporters to return to street protests.
"We are disappointed because the summit said nothing on the question that we are concerned about. We did not descend on the streets to get the elections delayed by a month and a half," one of the protest leaders, Pacifique Nininahazwe, told AFP.
UN warns of tension
At the end of his two-day visit to Burundi on Sunday, Adama Dieng, the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, warned of increased tensions and the risk of further violence unless all parties engaged in open dialogue.
"Given Burundi's history of ethnic violence and in light of ongoing fears of attacks based on ethnicity, the special adviser strongly encouraged Burundian parties to use their influence to prevent any action that could increase the risk of violence against individuals or groups on the basis of their identity, including political affiliation, religious and ethnic identity," said a statement issued at the end of Dieng's visit.
Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world. The former German East Africa colony has known years of conflict, including the 1993 mass killings of ethnic Tutsis by the Hutu majority.
jm/cmk (AFP, Reuters,)