African leaders at the AU heads of state and government summit in Addis Ababa have decided to send a delegation of presidents to meet Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza, to try persuade him to accept an AU peacekeeping force in his country.
So far Mr. Nkurunziza has flatly rejected what he called “an invasion force” and it seemed that his opposition had killed the idea which was mooted by ambassadors in the AU Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) in December to deploy a 5000-strong peacekeeping force called Maprobu.
On Friday, the AU PSC met at heads of state level and could not agree on whether or not to send in the force.
On Saturday they passed the decision up to the full summit.
Several officials said they believed the heads would reject the force because of Burundi’s objection – and because the situation on the ground in Burundi was not dire enough to warrant such an intervention.
They suggested that, at most, the existing contingent of about 30 AU human rights and military observers on the ground could be beefed up to a few hundred.
But on Sunday AU peace and security commissioner, Smail Chergui, said the heads of state had decided to send a delegation of presidents to discuss the force with Nkurunziza and also to speed up the political dialogue between the government and the opposition which has stalled.
Mr. Chergui noted that Burundi had so far been hostile to the force.
However, if the delegation of presidents – yet to be decided on – persuade him to accept the force its mandate would be to help Burundi security forces collect weapons and disarm militias and protect civilians in conjunction with local police.
It would also facilitate the work of the human rights observers already on the ground.
He pointedly observed that the Burundi government had previously asked the AU to help it collect weapons and disarm militias.
He also noted that Burundi itself had complained that the government of a neighbouring country was training refugees from Burundi to return to destabilise Burundi.
The implication of this remark was that the AU peacekeeping force would also try to stem this cross-border incursion – something which the Burundi government had said it would want.
Mr. Chergui stressed that the AU had reassured Burundi that it had no intention to occupy Burundi or to be aggressive.
The force would be just a measure that should allay the fears of everyone.
He said the countries of the East African Standby Force (ESF) had informed the AU that they had instructed their forces to be ready to deploy.
The ESF comprises the countries of the East African Community (EAC) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the Horn of Africa.
Chergui said it was necessary to bring stability, peace, and security to Burundi to stimulate development.
It was not immediately clear whether the decision by the AU leaders to send a delegation to Nkurunziza to try to persuade him to accept the AU force was just a face-saving measure by the AU to cover a retreat, or whether the summit had made a firm decision to back the AU PSC’s December decision to deploy such a force and was now determined to persuade Nkurunziza to accept it.
Also, the UN has said it will support all possible options to help stabilise Burundi, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday.
The UN scribe was apparently retreating from his previous strong backing for AU peacekeeping troops to be deployed in that country.
He told journalists on the sidelines of the AU heads of state and government summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that the AU Peace and Security Council’s (AU PSC) proposal in December to send in 5000 peacekeeping troops to quell political violence in the country was just one of the options.
He said he had backed this proposal to the UN Security Council.