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African Union agrees in principle to send troops to Burundi


map_of_burundiThe African Union has agreed to send troops to stop violence in Burundi, a senior official said Friday, after talks in which the 54-member bloc warned it would not allow “another genocide”.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) “took a decision yesterday to send troops to protect civilians,” senior AU official Bonaventure Cakpo Guebegde told AFP.

“These troops will be under the banner of the East African Standby Force (EASF).”

No decision has been made on the potential size of any force, which would require the agreement of Burundi, or a vote by AU presidents before any deployment is approved.

Burundi has so far dismissed proposals for any peacekeeping force.

“We have two options: we send troops with Burundi government consent, or we wait for African Union heads of states’ consent, which means that two-thirds at least should agree,” Guebegde said.

He could not comment on whether Bujumbura had reacted to the proposal.

“Our favourite option is to reach an agreement with Burundian government,” he said.

On Thursday, AU security council chief Smail Chergui said there was “a very clear message” from the meeting, that “the killings in Burundi must stop immediately.”

Ministers were briefed Thursday on “contingency planning” on the military capabilities of its regional East African Standby Force without giving further details.

“The number of troops to send has not been fully determined yet,” Guebegde said.

– ‘No more genocide’ –
The 10-nation EASF includes Burundi itself, and is one of five AU regional bodies with a mandate to boost “peace and security”. It has never deployed and is currently a force in principle only.

Burundi descended into bloodshed in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July.

“Africa will not allow another genocide to take place on its soil,” the PSC said on Twitter during Thursday’s meeting.

AU rights investigators this week returned from a fact-finding mission to Burundi expressing “great concern” after witnessing some of the heaviest fighting in the troubled country for months.

The AU team said they had reports of “arbitrary killings and targeted assassinations” as well as arrests, detentions and torture. Their concerns have been widely echoed.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned this week that Burundi was on “the brink of a civil war that risks engulfing the entire region,” and said he was dispatching an envoy to push for urgent talks to end the crisis.

Earlier this month Ban said that deploying UN peacekeepers to Burundi was an option to quell the violence but recommended that a UN team be first sent to help bolster dialogue.

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