Burundi is fast sliding into anarchy and world leaders and humanitarian agencies are now warning of a possible genocide.
Reports from the ground say a forced civilian disarmament operation and targeted assassinations have continued in the capital Bujumbura, with bodies regularly being dumped in the streets, following the July elections that gave President Pierre Nkurunziza a controversial third term in office.
More than 200 people have been killed while up to 200,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since April when tension began to build up. Scores of people have been detained during the disarmament operation.
President Nkurunziza has dismissed as untrue claims of a potential genocide, but acknowledged the need for peace for a country that has been on edge for most of the year.
“There will be no genocide in Burundi it is a fact that many Burundians are longing for peace, their voices are still faintly audible in the midst of a few troublemakers who for some difficult-to-understand reasons represent a permanent obstacle to peace,” said the president during a national prayer breakfast on Wednesday.
Diplomats have also expressed concern that Rwanda could join the conflict after President Paul Kagame accused Burundi of targeting the Tutsi population. Rwanda and Burundi have Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, which have been at loggerheads for decades.
READ: Kagame warns of genocide in neighbouring Burundi
The East African Community has also pushed its Heads of State Summit from November to February, partly as a result of Burundi appearing unable to take over the regional bloc’s chairmanship from Tanzania.
Both the United Nations Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council have indicated their intention to deploy troops to prevent the country from sliding into a 1994 Rwanda-like genocide.
While the UN is considering deploying a section of its peacekeeping force from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the AU says it will deploy forces to Burundi in a few weeks’ time through the Eastern African Standby Force (EASF).
READ: UN makes plans to send peacekeepers to Burundi
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Admore Kambidzi, the secretary of the AU Peace and Security Council told The EastAfrican that the Council has agreed in principle to deploy African troops in the many meetings they have had on Burundi, but is yet to decide on the nature of the mandate.
The deployment would mark the first time the continent is applying pre-emptive intervention and also a demonstration that the five regional standby forces have attained full operational capability.
The African Union Peace and Security Council met in Addis Ababa on November 13, giving EASF — the first regional standby force to achieve full operational capacity in December — the mandate to deploy in Burundi.
Issimail Chanfi, the director of EASF, said that the regional force has had contingency plans for Burundi since March this year and was expecting to move any time they get the request and the mandate from the AU Peace and Security Council.
“EASF is ready, having had extensive training and our personnel have had field experience in Darfur, Somalia and South Sudan. The equipment has been verified and the member states signed a memorandum of understanding in Kigali in 2014 pledging the equipment,” he said.
EASF, with 5,300 troops from 10 member states — Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda — has been designed to respond to diverse security situations in between 14 and 30 days depending on the situation.
With its headquarters at the Karen Defence College, Nairobi, EASF is part of the larger five-region African Standby Force and can be deployed anywhere on the continent depending on the circumstances.
EASF comprises five battalions of about 800 troops each, three motorised battalion, one mechanised battalion, one light infantry battalions, two companies of combat engineers, one platoon of military police numbering 500, one unit of Level II medical hospital orderlies and over 300 civilians for the humanitarian component.
The remaining four standby forces held their last military exercises from late October to early November to test their full operational capacity before the deadline in December 2015.
For any of the five standby brigades to deploy in any trouble spots on the continent, the decision must come from the AU Peace and Security Council, describing the mandate, the number and the type of equipment required for the mission.
Thereafter, regional leaders — in this case the EASF partner states — are required to hold a special summit to authorise the deployment in Burundi.
The EASF is to be deployed after the AU Commission accepted the request of the United Nations Security Council to accelerate and finalise the strategy for the deployment of an African-led mission in Burundi to prevent widespread violence, in consultation with EAC.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, and the UN Special Aiser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, had earlier in the week said that Burundi was in danger of drifting into mass atrocities and could be facing imminent catastrophe.
“Traumatised residents frequently discover mutilated bodies, victims of executions,” said Mr Al Hussein. Yet the UN says it is not equipped to deal with the situation to pre-empt a 1994 Rwanda-like situation.
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France — one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — had on November 10 proposed a draft resolution that threatened targeted sanctions against Burundi political leaders who are fuelling violence or thwarting efforts to end the crisis through dialogue.
The AU Peace and Security Council had in early November recommended targeted sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze, against the parties responsible for the deterioration of security.
The Council also recommended that Burundian defence and security forces who are involved in killings and human-rights violations be barred from participating in AU-led peace support operations across the continent.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno the president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, board trustee Ayo Abe, while welcoming the AU’s strong statements on Burundi, noted that the continental body needs to go further by insisting its observers deploy throughout the country and preparing for a robust peace implementation mission that can forestall atrocities, incipient civil war and a possible intervention from neighbouring Rwanda.
“If Africa’s problems need African solutions, as we truly believe, this is the time for the AU to step up and prove its worth,” they said.
The United States has also expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Burundi and suggested that the talks presided over by President Yoweri Museveni be concluded within a month to save Burundi from sliding into chaos.
While on a diplomatic mission in Bujumbura recently, the US special envoy for the Great Lakes region, Thomas Perriello, called for immediate resumption of dialogue.
“The US is concerned by words used by the Burundian government officials and over the violence made by both sides, we call on and reiterate the restart of the inter-Burundi dialogue as outlined by both EAC and AU,” he said.
Mr Perriello further said that the only key to inclusive dialogue that could lead to peace and stability in the country is through regional dialogue, “We don’t think the current dialogue commission can be the solution but rather may lead to escalation of violence in the country there is a need for regional-led dialogue,” he added.
President Nkurunzinza had earlier set up a new intra-Burundi dialogue consisting of 15 members that had civil society organisations, religious leaders and political actors. However, the opposition, who are currently in exile, questioned the inclusivity and transparency of the dialogue considering that the appointing authority to the dialogue is the president.
The intra-Burundi dialogue — started on July 14 — was suspended after the Burundian government officials failed to turn up as they prepared for the presidential elections.
President Yoweri Museveni was appointed by the EAC to facilitate the dialogue in place of Abdoulaye Bathily after the latter was being rejected by the ruling party for being biased.
Additional Reporting by Havyarimana Moses
SOURCE: THE EAST AFRICAN