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African Union to send 5,000-strong force to Burundi


Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's re-election to a third term in disputed polling in July has fueled a surge in political violence that has raised fears of a return of a civil war (AFP Photo/Simon Maina)

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s re-election to a third term in disputed polling in July has fueled a surge in political violence that has raised fears of a return of a civil war (AFP Photo/Simon Maina)

The African Union will send a 5,000 strong force to stop violence in troubled Burundi, giving Bujumbura a four-day deadline to agree but warning it would send troops anyway.

The AU force “shall have an initial strength of up to 5,000 military personnel and police,” the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) said in a statement late Friday.

Burundi has so far dismissed proposals for any peacekeeping force, but the AU said if it refuses to accept the troops, the bloc would “take additional measures” to ensure its deployment.

And it underlined its “determination to take all appropriate measures against any party or actor… who would impede the implementation of the present decision.”

The move comes as international alarm grows over spiralling violence in the tiny, landlocked nation which has been mired in bloodshed since April, sparking concern it was sliding towards civil war.

The force is mandated to “prevent any deterioration of the security situation” as well as to protect civilians and “contribute to the creation of the necessary conditions for the successful holding of the inter-Burundian dialogue.”

Talks between the government and opposition have repeatedly collapsed.

No details were given as to which countries might send troops — or when they would be deployed.

The AU urged talks with members including “countries of the region” in the AU’s regional military East African Standby Force (EASF) “to generate the troops and police elements needed to quickly reach the authorised strength.”

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.

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

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.

Nkurunziza is an ex-rebel and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to rule.

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

The upsurge in violence has raised fears of a return to civil war, a decade after the end of a 1993-2006 conflict between rebels from the Hutu majority and an army dominated by minority Tutsis, which left 300,000 people dead.

The force, the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, known by its acronym in French, MAPROBU, will have an initial renewable mandate of six months.

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