Switzerland sought Blatter aid to ease Burundi crisis

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 20, 2015 shows outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter gesturing during a press conference at the football's world body headquarter's in Zurich. Along with the Italian-Swiss secretary general of the European federation Gianni Infantino, Bahrain's ruling dynasty, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa is considered a top favourite to win the post on February 26, 2016 to succeed Blatter, who has been suspended for eight years over corruption.   / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 20, 2015 shows outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter gesturing during a press conference at the football’s world body headquarter’s in Zurich.<br />Along with the Italian-Swiss secretary general of the European federation Gianni Infantino, Bahrain’s ruling dynasty, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa is considered a top favourite to win the post on February 26, 2016 to succeed Blatter, who has been suspended for eight years over corruption.<br />/ AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI

Sepp Blatter said Thursday that he offered Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza a role with FIFA to persuade him to leave office amid a brewing political crisis, following a request from the Swiss government.

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed in an email to AFP that it sought Blatter’s help in diffusing tensions in Burundi.

Blatter, FIFA’s disgraced ex-president, made the comments at the Zurich launch of a new authorised biography called “Mission Football.”

Speaking to journalists at the launch, Blatter said “Switzerland, which wanted to protect Burundi’s interests, asked me to speak to President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is also a huge football fan, to persuade him not to run”, for reelection.

The request was made in May of last year, as Nkurunziza was pursuing a controversial third term, which he went on to win in a vote that sparked a continuing crisis which has left hundreds dead.

“We suggested that he become an ambassador for football within Africa and outside. President Nkurunziza said ‘I am very touched,'” but ultimately declined the offer.

In the book, Blatter was quoted as saying that he was asked to intervene in Burundi by the State Secretary at Switzerland’s foreign ministry, Yves Rossier.

Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Stefan von Below confirmed “there was a contact between State Secretary Yves Rossier and Mr. Joseph Blatter.

“The intention was to contribute to a peaceful solution in order to prevent the current crisis in Burundi. Switzerland’s commitment to peace and stability in Burundi has been longstanding,” von Below further said.

The Swiss foreign ministry “never asked president Nkurunziza not to run for the office of president again,” he added.

Reacting to an article in Swiss media about Blatter’s diplomatic efforts, Burundi’s presidential spokesman Willy Nyamittwe said in a tweet: “they tried everything they could to trample the fundamental principles of democracy in #Burundi. We defeated them.”

Blatter claimed in the book that the idea for him to be used as an envoy was initiated by the United States, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

If true, the request for Blatter’s help would have come just before the US justice department unsealed a raft of indictments targeting top FIFA officials and sports marketing executives over corruption in world football going back decades.

The US indictments, announced on May 27, kicked off the unprecedented crisis at FIFA that ultimately led to Blatter’s downfall and his replacement as FIFA’s president in February by Gianni Infantino.

During Burundi’s year-long political crisis more than 400 people have been killed while some 250,000 others have fled the country, raising fears of a return to the 1993-2006 civil war that claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.



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