ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Burundi was re-elected to the African Union’s peace and security council, diplomats said, a move that could complicate plans to send peacekeepers to the troubled country against its will.
The bloc wants to deploy 5,000 peacekeepers in the central African state, where hundreds have died in the worst violence since an ethnically charged civil war ended in 2005.
But President Pierre Nkurunziza - who triggered the crisis by standing for a third term in July elections - has rejected the plan, saying the arrival of any such force would be seen as an invasion.
Burundi kept its place on the 15-member council unopposed on Thursday due to a lack of rival contenders from its region.
“There wasn’t any other choice but to rubber-stamp Burundi’s entry,” said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Countries on the council are barred from voting on motions about their own affairs. However, diplomats said Burundi could still use its prominent position to influence debates.
“It has propaganda value for the government,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, about Burundi’s re-election.
African Union leaders are expected to try to persuade President Nkurunziza to accept the force during the AU summit this weekend. Diplomats said they were not optimistic that he would change tack.
Nkurunziza won the July election that was boycotted by most of the opposition. Opponents said a third term violated the constitution. Loyalists cited a court that said he could run.
More than 400 people have been killed in protests and crack-downs over the past nine months, raising worries of a return to the kind of conflict that pitted Burundi’s Tutsi minority against the Hutu majority in the civil war.
The renewed violence has rattled a region where memories of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda are still raw. Burundi and Rwanda share the same ethnic mix.
Amnesty International said on Friday that satellite images showed five possible mass graves in Burundi.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Friday that perpetrators of atrocities in Burundi “must realize that the international community is watching” and those responsible will be brought to account.
“If the government of Burundi wants to prevent more mass graves, there has to be a prompt inclusive political dialogue outside Burundi and a significantly expanded international presence to offer protection inside,” she said.
Power visited Burundi last week with the U.N. Security Council.
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Andrew Hay