UN boss Ban scores major points ahead of Zuma-led heads of state visit to Burundi

Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza softens stance on talks with opposition, and to free hundreds of political prisoners as peace effort resumes.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrung big concessions from Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza as the country’s leader has agreed to hold talks to end a 10-month-old political crisis.

Ban’s visit was aimed at reviving stalled efforts to end the crisis and comes after the Burundi government appeared to soften its position towards opponents by agreeing to receive a delegation of African heads of state, expected later this week.

After meeting with Nkurunziza as well as government and opposition politicians, Ban said that all sides had agreed to “inclusive dialogue” and that the president “confirmed, that he would engage in political dialogue.”

“Burundi’s political leaders must be ready to summon the courage and the confidence that will make a credible political process possible,” Ban said.

The government said last month it would not participate in crisis talks that had been scheduled to begin in neighboring Tanzania in January and which Ugandan mediator Yoweri Museveni was seen as having taken his eye off as he successfully campaigned for re-election.

The Burundi government will also release 1,200 people it has detained, the UN chief said, while the presidency on its Twitter account said that 2,000 prisoners would be freed.

Ban met with both government and opposition politicians on Monday night before holding talks with Nkurunziza on Tuesday morning. It remains unclear which of his opponents Nkurunziza will be willing to negotiate with as some are in exile, some jailed and some have taken up arms.


Ban Ki-moon arrives in Burundi.

“This dialogue concerns all Burundians, except those engaged in acts of destabilisation,” Nkurunziza said Tuesday, hours after overnight grenade attacks in several city neighbourhoods left a dozen injured, according to police.

Burundi’s crisis was triggered by Nkurunziza’s controversial decision in April last year to run for a third term which he went on to win in a July election.

Over 400 people have been killed, more than 240,000 have left the country and violent attacks have become a daily routine in the months since.

Bujumbura also cancelled international arrest warrants against several exiled opposition leaders, as an African Union-appointed heads of state team is due in the country on Thursday.

Backpedalling

The high-level committee of five leaders led by South Africa president Jacob Zuma is further evidence of the bloc backpedalling on its initial strategy of coercive diplomacy having abandoned a plan to deploy troops into the country with or without Nkurunziza’s approval.

The Burundi leadership had said it would defend himself from an “invasion force” and following an AU heads of state summit last month questioned the need for the high-level committee as it dug in on a series of diplomatic victories.

Zuma was appointed for his previous role as mediator in the Burundi peace process that ended a debilitating civil war.

Nkurunziza said he had appealed to Ban to help end Rwandan support for Burundian rebels alleged by Burundian authorities and UN investigators.

“We also discussed regional problems and we explained how Rwanda is trying to destabilise us,” Nkurunziza said. “We told (Ban) that we had evidence and we asked for UN intervention to push for Rwanda to give it up, so that Burundians and Rwandans can live in harmony as in the past.”

Rwanda has denied the claim but is relocating Burundi refugees from its soil. 

Ban is scheduled to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday and South Sudan on Thursday.

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