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Burundi rejects African Union plans to deploy peacekeeping forces

A peacekeeping force for Burundi, proposed by African Union heads of state, has been put on hold. Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has rejected the plan, promising to fight any peacekeepers sent by the AU.

Burundian Foreign Minister Alaine Nyamitwe said on Sunday that if the AU's mission is to convince Burundi to accept peacekeeping troops, "it has already failed."

"There is no government consent," he said on the sidelines of the AU summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, which ended on Sunday afternoon.

"We have the capacity to secure our country," Nyamitwe added.

Burundi has repeatedly opposed the idea of the AU's planned 5,000-strong peacekeeping mission, claiming that the deployment of troops without its permission would equate to an "invasion force."

The United Nations has warned, however, that Burundi risks a repeat of a 1993-2006 civil war. The country's current crisis began when President Pierre Nkurunziza last year announced his plans to run for a third term as president, something not allowed under the country's constitution.

Violent protests broke out following his announcement, with more than 400 people killed and some 230,000 displaced since last April. Many have fled the country.

Clashes between government loyalists and the opposition have also become increasingly ethnically-charged, sparking fears that Nkurunziza's ruling party may attempt to drive a wedge between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

'Leaders must be held responsible'

Speaking at the

AU summit

earlier in the day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he backed the AU's proposal "to deploy human rights observers and to establish a prevention and protection mission."

"Leaders who stand by while civilians are slaughtered in their name must be held responsible," Ban said, insisting that the Burundi crisis required the "most serious and urgent commitment."

Under Article 4(h) of the AU's charter, the pan-African bloc has the right to intervene in a fellow nation state "in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity."

But top AU diplomat Ibrahima Fall said Sunday that sending troops without Burundi's approval was "unimaginable."

Chadian President Idriss Deby criticized the decision to put the peacekeeping plan on hold, warning his colleagues against inaction.

"Our organization acts as it has for the past 20 or 30 years: we meet often, we talk too much, we always write a lot, but we don't do enough, and sometimes nothing at all," he said.

ksb/cmk (AFP, dpa)