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Burundian opposition boycotts dialogue with government

Martina SchwikowskiJanuary 20, 2016

Political dialogue has started in Burundi ahead of a UN Delegation visit to discuss huge concerns over human rights violoations. Opposition parties are boycotting the talks.

Burundian soldiers
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Kuroawa

The first talks of the inter-Burundian dialogue have started in the Northern Province in Kirundo. Although President Pierre Nkurunziza's government followed the calls for such talks made by US President Barack Obama and the United Nations (UN) recently, the sincerity of these consultations is in question. Burundi's opposition is boycotting the dialogue, calling it a farce.

"It is a big spectacle and only organized for the delegation of the United Nations that is due to arrive in the capital Bujumbura," said Pancrace Cimpaye, spokesperson of the coalition Council for the Observance of the Constitution, Human Rights and the Arusha Peace Accord (CNARED).

"It is also taking place before a planned meeting of the African Union at the end of the month in Addis Ababa," said Cimpaye. He believes it is an attempt to consolidate more power for the third term of President Nkurunziza ignoring the fact that many Burundians are being killed in that process.

Forced election

The crisis currently sweeping through Burundi began last April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was running for a third term in violation of the country's constitution. He was re-elected in July in a poll boycotted by the opposition. His critics say he violated the two-term limit in the constitution and the Arusha agreement that ended Burundi's civil war. The president claims his first term didn't count against the limit because he was elected by parliament instead of a popular vote.

The day after Nkurunziza made his announcement, thousands of people took to the streets in protest. Police responded by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing two and injuring more. The president remained defiant. "I would like to warn everyone: whoever wants to create problems with the ruling party elected by the people, will find himself in trouble," he said.

Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza
Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza's third term led to protests and violenceImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Karaba

Brutal regime

After an attempted military coup was thwarted in May, protests continued throughout the summer but were suppressed, often with brutality. "Burundian police used excessive lethal force, including against women and children, to silence those opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term," warned Amnesty International in a report.

Since the unrest started in April, around 250,000 people have fled into neighbouring countries and more than 400 people have been killed threatening a deeper crisis for the central African country.

"Burundi faces the prospect of sliding down a path of ethnic violence and breakdown in the rule of law," the UN rights chief Zeid Ra' ad al-Hussein said, pointing out huge concerns over alleged mass graves as political violence appears to be taking on an ethnic tone in Burundi.

Opposition in exile

"Burundi is no normal country anymore. We are on the brink of many more killings," David Gakunzi, the director of Global Forum Burundi in Paris told DW.

"There is no dialogue. How can you have a dialogue while the opposition is killed or forced into exile?" he asked.

According to Gakunzi, the government is trying to show that they are in control, but it is only a game of propaganda ahead of the expected visit of the UN delegation.

"We are in a terrible situation. There is no more political space in Burundi. It is a rule of violence and tyranny using torture," he said.

Gakunzi said that the only solution is to oblige the government to come back to normal behavior outside of political negotiations. That would mean a stop to the violence, freeing political prisoners and starting then judicial processes that would lead to new democratic elections.

Burundian soldiers in a military vehicle, carrying men tied up
Burundian soldiers carry men tied up in a military vehicleImage: Getty Images

"We need international pressure, military interventions by the African Union and targeted sanctions,” he said. But he is pessimistic. "The government's people have a background of ten years of killings before they came into power and they have now already targeted Tutsis.”

No new elections

But the government is not moving forward. When the first sessions of the inter-political dialogue started under the auspices of the National Inter-Burundian Dialogue Commission, the Burundian government maintained that elections cannot be held again and stressed that who exactly will participate in the talks must be discussed.

The opposition however said the government does not have the right to say who is taking part in the talks that are attended by several hundred people.

"It is not up to the government to determine parties to the negotiations as the government itself is a party in conflict," said Tatien Sibomana, spokesman of the party Unity for National Progress (UPRONA).

But according to Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe, one of the priorities of the forthcoming talks should be the preparation of the 2020 elections.

"I believe that they know deep down in their hearts that it is a lost case. I also believe that as far as I am concerned, the president has been duly elected. He has all the legal backing concerning his re-election," the minister stated.

Apollinaire Niyirora in Bujumbura contributed to this article.