UN Security Council ambassadors met for two hours with Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza on Friday, but said they had made little headway in efforts to bring peace to the troubled central African nation as the under-pressure leader maintained a hard line position.
The ambassadors met the president at his residence outside the capital during their second trip to the country in less than a year, appealing for him to take urgent action to stop the violence sparked by his re-election.
Council envoys have pushed for the government to hold talks with the opposition and agree to the presence of international troops—such as a proposed 5,000-strong African Union force—to restore stability.
But United States Ambassador Samantha Power said after the talks the envoys “didn’t achieve as much, frankly, as I think we would have liked”.
“There is a ‘cri de coeur’ from many, many people in Burundi for outside help and for urgent, urgent mediation to get a solution,” Power added.
Burundi has been gripped by violence since April, when Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July elections.
More than 400 people have died since then and at least 230,000 have fled the country, but Burundi’s government insists there is no need for foreign troops and has branded AU peacekeepers an “invasion force”.
Nkurunziza took a hard line during the meeting at his hilltop residence in Gitega, some two hours outside of Bujumbura, where he rejected calls for inclusive dialogue, renewed mediation efforts and an international intervention force.
He once again accused neighbouring Rwanda of backing armed opposition groups, and denied international warnings that the violence could turn into ethnic killings.
Relations between Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi are tense, with Bujumbura accusing Kigali of backing armed rebels and political opponents of Nkurunziza. Rwanda has denied all the claims.
“I can guarantee that there will not be a genocide in Burundi,” Nkurunziza said, adding that Burundi is “99 percent secure”.
Nkurunziza’s refusal to compromise has raised the prospect of tougher measures ahead to stop almost nightly outbreaks of violence.
Clashes in Bujumbura Thursday evening left three people dead, police said, including one youth who was shot dead by police after a grenade went off. Explosions and gunfire were heard in several places across the capital.
French Deputy UN ambassador Alexis Lamek said talks with the opposition will stand a better chance of succeeding if backed by international mediation.
But Angolan Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins said there was hope for a possible agreement on deploying more AU observers.
Greeted by demonstrators
The 15 council members were greeted on arrival Thursday by pro-government demonstrators telling them to stop meddling.
Hundreds lined the road leading from the airport to greet the envoys with signs that read “genocide will not happen” and “stop interfering in Burundian affairs”.
AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has expressed “fervent hope” that the UN ambassadors would work towards achieving the rapid deployment of peacekeepers and restart stalled talks between the government and opposition.
The US and France support the AU proposal, but other UN Security Council members such as Russia, Angola and Egypt are reluctant to put too much pressure on the government.
Nkurunziza is also balking at AU plans to deploy more rights monitors in Burundi while the United Nations is beefing up its presence in Bujumbura.
Council envoys travel to Addis Ababa on Saturday to meet with AU officials about the proposal, which is expected to be a key element of talks at an AU summit in Ethiopia on January 30-31.
On Thursday, two former Burundian presidents appealed to the council ambassadors to take action and pleaded for an AU force to be sent.
“We really need that force,” said Domitien Ndayizeye, who led the landlocked nation from 2003-2005.
Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, in power from 1976 to 1987, urged the council envoys to “stop this bloodletting that is making our young people disappear”.
Bagaza warned that without urgent international action, Burundi could “become another Rwanda”, referring to the neighbouring country’s 1994 genocide.
Hours before the UN diplomats arrived, Burundian rebels named a fugitive ex-general who fled after leading a failed coup bid in May as their leader.
The rebel force, which announced its formation in December, calls itself the Republican Forces of Burundi, or “Forebu” after its French acronym.