Some African states oppose AU peace force for Burundi: Gambian president

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 30, 2016 6:59 AM

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Some African states oppose sending peacekeepers to Burundi without the government's consent after the president said such a move would be treated as an invasion, Gambia's president said on Saturday, the first day of an African Union summit.

The African Union's peace and security council announced a plan in December to deploy a 5,000-strong force to the central African nation, where hundreds have died in the worst violence since an ethnically charged civil war ended in 2005.

Burundi is high on the agenda for the two-day summit as rising violence has rattled the region which has a history of ethnic conflict. The 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda killed 800,000 people.

"It is not only Burundi that is resisting that idea," Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh told reporters at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa when asked if there was opposition to the plan for peacekeepers. He did not name any nations.

But when asked if Gambia, which is a member of 15-member AU peace and security council was among them, he said: "Without the consent of Burundi, yes."

Before the summit, an African diplomat had told Reuters that Egypt, another council member, had voiced reservations. Egyptian officials could not be reached for comment.

Officials have said African leaders at the summit would try to persuade President Pierre Nkurunziza - who triggered the crisis by standing for a third term in July elections - to accept such a force. But they also said it was unlikely to succeed.

"When it comes to troops, our position has not changed. It is a no-go area under any conditions," Burundi's Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe told reporters in Addis Ababa.

Leaders from the 15 members of the council met on Friday in a bid to resolve differences but failed to reach a decision, said Smail Chergui, the AU's peace and security commissioner.

If the AU sent a force without Burundi's consent it would have to invoke Article 4 of the AU charter that allows it to intervene in a member state "in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity".

U.N. Security Council would give final authorization.

The United States has urged African leaders to work "behind closed doors" to convince Burundi's president.

"The country now stands perilously close to the brink," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the AU council on Friday, praising the plan for a peacekeeping force, known as MAPOBRU.

"Now we must do everything we can to put in place an inclusive political process." he said.

Opponents of Nkurunziza say he violated the constitution and a peace deal that ended the civil war by running for a third term. Supporters cite a court ruling that said he could run.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Edmund Blair and Raissa Kasolowsky)