Burundi accepts military observers in ‘principle’

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

Burundi’s government said Thursday it had agreed “in principle” to the deployment of African Union military observers and human rights experts to monitor key elections following weeks of political unrest.

But Burundi rejected AU calls for further delays to the polls, with parliamentary elections planned for June 29, ahead of the presidential vote on July 15.

“Military experts, human rights monitors, observers — we say that in principle there is no problem, there is no objection,” Foreign Minister Aime-Alain Nyamitwe told AFP.

But Nyamitwe said they would be allowed in only after setting out conditions following “consultations” with the AU.

The troubled central African nation has been in crisis since late April over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive five-year term, a move branded by opponents as unconstitutional and a violation of a 2006 peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war.

“You do not send military experts to a country without having held consultations,” Nyamitwe added, calling on the AU to clarify details about the observers, including their mandate, their number, and which countries they will come from.

Polls were postponed following weeks of demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by security forces, and after a failed coup attempt last month by a section of the army.

The unrest left about 40 people dead and scores injured, mostly in the capital Bujumbura. More than 100,000 people have fled the violence to neighbouring countries.

The decision to send some 50 observers was taken by the continent’s leaders at an AU summit last weekend in South Africa “to verify the process of disarming the militia and other armed groups,” the 54-member bloc’s peace and security commissioner Smail Chergui said.

The United Nations has repeatedly warned about the need to disarm youth groups ahead of elections, especially the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, which it accuses of carrying out executions, abductions and torture.

The AU has expressed its “deep concern about the continuing stalemate” in Burundi and said that election dates should be “set by consensus between the Burundian parties”.

Nyamitwe however dismissed any further postponement saying polls had already been delayed, and that there was a need to ensure the new government was in place to avoid a “constitutional vacuum” when the current administration’s mandate ends.

The next president must be sworn in by August 26.

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