Nairobi, Kenya | AFP |
Burundi’s government on Friday asked Tanzania to arrest several leaders of the main opposition attending peace talks in Arusha in a bid to resolve a nearly two-year political crisis.
The talks are the latest effort by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa to mediate the crisis in neighbouring Burundi which erupted when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office in April 2015.
But the government has once again refused to attend the talks and negotiate with the main umbrella opposition movement, the National Council for the Restoration of Arusha Agreement and Rule of Law (CNARED) — which is exiled in Brussels.
Bujumbura considers the party a “terrorist organisation” and accuses it of leading a coup plot in May 2015 at the start of the unrest.
To drive its point home, Burundi’s embassy addressed a letter to the Tanzanian government asking it to “arrest those wanted Burundians who are now in Arusha for the inter-Burundi dialogue”.
Burundi’s Foreign Minister Aime-Alain Nyamitwe confirmed the information contained in the letter.
A legal source in Burundi told AFP the request “concerns several politicians who fled into exile and who are targeted by an international arrest warrant issued by Burundi’s prosecutor for their role in the (foiled) coup of May 2015”.
It affects nearly the entire CNARED delegation of seven leading opposition figures. Those accused have denied any role in the attempted coup.
While the government is officially boycotting the talks, a top official from the ruling CNDD-FDD is among the delegations, but has refused to sit at the same table as CNARED.
The talks got underway Friday morning, and Mkapa is hoping they will lead to an agreement “on the principle and spirit of the Arusha peace accords” credited with ending a 12-year civil war in 2006.
He also wants consensus that Burundi’s constitution will not undergo revision “until the situation has stabilised”.
The Burundi government launched such a reform process on Wednesday that members of civil society and government fear could lift provisions on term limits and allow Nkurunziza to seek a fourth term in 2020.
CNARED’s executive secretary Anicet Niyonkuru said the request for the party’s officials to be arrested did not come as a surprise.
“The regime has once again shown its refusal to see peace and stability return to Burundi, but we are not worried as we got assurances from the Tanzanian government before coming here.”
Nkurunziza’s third-term run and victory plunged the central African nation into turmoil, with hundreds killed in ensuing unrest. Nearly 400,000 have fled the country.
A September report by UN rights experts recounted spine-chilling cases of torture and horrific sexual violence, mass arrests and disappearances and warned that “the crime of genocide also looms large”.