Officials from President Pierre Nkurunziza's government did not turn up for a final round of talks aimed at ending Burundi's severe political crisis. The peace talks are going ahead without them.
The fifth session of the inter-Burundi dialogue started on Thursday with the aim of laying out a roadmap to free and fair elections in 2020 and putting a halt to political unrest that erupted in the small East African country in 2015.
Representatives from the the government of Pierra Nkurunziza (shown above) and the ruling CNDD-FDD party failed to turn up for the talks in Arusha, Tanzania, even though the dialogue had been postponed to allow them the possibility of attending.
Officials had requested a postponement from the original dates which clashed with the 25th anniversary commemorations of the assassination of Burundi's first president.
Now, they are saying they won't attend because the East African Community facilitation team failed to deliver information they requested.
Speaking to The East African, an online news site, Burundi government spokesperson Prosper Ntahorwamiye said his government wanted to ensure no issues will be discussed "other than the roadmap towards the 2020 elections."
He also said Nkurunziza's government had "made it clear that we would not participate in any dialogue that includes those accused of plotting the 2015 failed coup."
Violence flared over controversial third term
In 2015, Nkurunziza – a former rebel leader who became president in 2005 at the end of Burundi's civil war – announced he would run for a third term. Although the constitution only allows for two presidential terms, Nkurunziza argued that his first term didn't count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.
Nkurunziza went on to win the 2015 election. Since then, "authoritarian rule, political assassinations, forced disappearances, torture and a ban on civil society activities" have became the order of the day, according to the Bertelsmann Foundation's Transformation Index.
Nkurunziza stated in May this year that he won't stand in the 2020 presidential elections. But the political landscape continues to be marked by increasing polarization and a weakening of the opposition parties.
Burundi talks to go ahead
Despite the absence of government officials at the the inter-Burundi dialogue, mediators have decided to proceed with the talks, which are due to run until Monday, October 29.
"I did everything I could to get a delegation from Bujumbura [Burundi's capital] in vain," facilitator Benjamin Mkapa said.
Opposition leader Anicet Niyongabo of the umbrella group CNARED, who is attending the talks in Arusha, said: "This shows again that the CNDD-FDD never intended to negotiate with the opposition to lift Burundi out of crisis."
UN and EU criticize Burundi
On Thursday, the European Union expressed its concern about Burundi's human rights situation and, in particular, the persistence of extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrests. It also voted to renew sanctions against four Burundians deemed to be undermining democracy or obstructing the search for a political solution to the country's crisis.
On the same day, the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet expressed her outrage at "belligerent and defamatory" comments made by Burundi's ambassador to the UN.
Albert Shingiro, speaking at the UN General Assembly, had rubbished a recent UN report detailing serious human rights violations in Burundi, including crimes against humanity.
In his comments, Shingiro called the commission's Senegalese chairman "an African tasked with selling another African country at auction."
"Unfortunately it's not the first time that it's happened, we saw Africans selling other Africans during the era of slavery and colonialism," Shingiro added.
Burundi has previously said the UN report was "full of lies" and threatened to sue those who defame the country, even including the UN commissioners who published the report.
"The threat to prosecute the members of the commission for the work they have done at the express request of the Council – a subsidiary body of the General Assembly - is unacceptable and should be immediately withdrawn," Bachelet said on Thursday.
"Burundi's belligerent and defamatory response to the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, and its repeated and wholly unsupported assertions that the Commission was the puppet of mysterious external forces, as well as the government's complete failure to address the very serious findings of the Commission of Inquiry, are reprehensible," she said.