December 19, 2015 / 10:40 AM / 2 years ago

Uganda to restart Burundi peace talks after violence escalates

Burundian police officers collect a cache of weapons recovered from suspected fighters after clashes in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda said on Saturday it would resume mediating peace talks for Burundi after violence that has pushed the Central African country close to civil war and led the African Union to prepare for the imposition of a peace keeping force.

Both the government and Burundi’s largest opposition coalition welcomed the move to restart talks.

On Friday, the African Union said it was preparing to send 5,000 peace keepers to Burundi to protect civilians, for the first time using powers to deploy troops to a member country against its will.

Tensions have been running particularly high since gunmen attacked military sites in the Burundi capital Bujumbura last week, unnerving a region where memories of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda are still raw.Burundi slid into crisis in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans for a third term in office.

The United Nations says at least 400 people have been killed since April when Nkurunziza’s decision triggered protests and later a failed military coup.

Uganda’s defense minister, Chrispus Kiyonga, told a news conference in Kampala the security situation in Burundi had been deteriorating.

“It is now considered appropriate and critical that the dialogue resumes,” Kiyonga said.

He said about 14 groups representing various sections of Burundian society, including the ruling party, opposition parties and civil society would attend the talks.

Burundi government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba said the government has always been open to talks and was waiting for an invitation.

“It’s an inter-Burundian dialogue and only Burundians will determine what to discuss,” he told Reuters.

Nzobonariba however ruled out holding talks with anyone it accused of being behind the May attempted coup.

“It may be an occasion to put hands our on them as they are sought by Burundi justice,” he said.

Pancrace Cimpaye, spokesman for Burundi’s largest opposition coalition known as CNARED, welcomed the resumption of talks, though he said the group was yet to receive an invitation.

“For us talks are between two parties in conflict, and the two warring parties today is Nkurunziza and his government on one side, and CNARED on the other”, he told Reuters.

The talks will resume in Uganda on Dec. 28 and thereafter move to Arusha in northern Tanzania. Arusha is the headquarters of the regional bloc East African Community (EAC), to which Burundi belongs. In July the EAC appointed Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni to mediate in the conflict and initial meetings were held in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura in the same month.

In the worst clashes since the failed coup in May, insurgents attacked military camps in the capital Bujumbura last week and nearly 90 people were killed.

Rights groups have reported violent clashes between protesters and authorities, gun attacks and detentions of government critics. The government dismisses reports of rights abuses.

Hundreds of thousands have also fled the worst violence to hit the country since it emerged from an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Additional reporting by Patrick Nduwimana in Kigali; Editing by George Obulutsa and Stephen Powell

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