NAIROBI (Reuters) - The African Union will send 100 human rights monitors and 100 military monitors to Burundi, South Africa’s president said on Saturday after a trip to the tiny nation that is facing its worst crisis since a civil war ended a decade ago.
Jacob Zuma, delivering a statement by a delegation of African leaders that he led, did not say when the monitors would arrive in Burundi, where more than 400 people have been killed since April. Zuma left Burundi after his remarks.
The violence has rattled a region with a history of ethnic conflict. Burundi’s civil war, which ended in 2005, largely pitted two ethnic groups against each other. Neighboring Rwanda was torn apart by genocide in 1994.
Western powers have urged Africans to act. The United States and European nations have withheld some aid to poor Burundi and taken other steps to try to put pressure on the government to resolve the crisis, but they say it has had little impact.
“We believe strongly that the solution to Burundi’s political problems can be attained only through inclusive and peaceful dialogue,” Zuma said in the statement, which also expressed “concerns” about the level of violence and killings.
The decision to send monitors suggests a compromise had been reached with Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, who triggered the crisis in April when he announced a bid for a third term. He went on to win a disputed election in July, in the face of street protests and violent clashes.
The new initiative falls far short of the African Union’s plan announced in December to send a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force, which Nkurunziza’s government rejected.
Details about the new mission were not immediately clear. Diplomats said other African monitors sent to Bujumbura last year had been stuck in their hotel unable to work because Burundi refused to sign a memorandum allowing them to operate.
Burundi’s opposition said 200 monitors were not enough.
“They have to increase the number so they can cover the large part of the (country’s) territory,” said Thacien Sibomana, spokesman for the opposition UPRONA party. “They unfortunately remained silent on the peacekeepers deployment while people are continuously dying.”
Burundi’s government has previously said it was ready for dialogue, but opponents say it has set preconditions on who would attend and what could be discussed that made such discussions pointless.
Talks sponsored by nearby Uganda in December had been planned to continue in Tanzania in January. But the initiative stumbled at the start of the year when the government said it would not attend as some participants had been behind violence.
For their part, opponents accuse government forces of targeting and killing members of the opposition.
The statement by African leaders said Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni would convene dialogue with “all important stakeholders as soon as possible”. It did not say when.
Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Gareth Jones