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  • Burundian protests turned violent in April 2015. Some fear escalating ethnic conflict.

    Burundian protests turned violent in April 2015. Some fear escalating ethnic conflict. | Photo: EFE

Published 22 January 2016

Representatives from Venezuela, China and Russia disagree with U.S. delegate Samantha Power on whether to deploy African Union soldiers.

Hundreds of Burundians gathered with signs and drums to protest the “intervention” of the United Nations Security Council, whose delegation arrived at the capital Thursday to urge that the Central African country accept peacekeepers. Gunshots claimed the life of one Burundian and injured another, according to AFP.

Since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term in April, violence has claimed the lives of at least 439 Burundians and forced 240,000 to flee, mostly into neighboring Rwanda.

Opposition groups says a third term would be unconstitutional, while regime supporters accuse Rwanda of training rebels.

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Two former Burundian presidents will meet Thursday with the 33-member U.N. delegation, half of which is from the Security Council. They will urge the delegation to back the African Union’s proposed deployment of 5,000 peacekeepers, although the deadline to accept them has already passed. The United States and France, who organized the delegation along with Angola, are in favor of intervention to prevent “another Rwanda,” a reference to the 1990s genocide.

A meeting with Nkurunziza on Friday will likely be less cordial. Still, the strong words of U.S. representative to the U.N. Samantha Powers have not persuaded other Security Council members of the wisdom of intervention. About half of the U.N. representatives—from Russia, China, Venezuela, Egypt and Angola—cast the African Union forces as impeding on Burundian sovereignty.

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“The sending of a peace mission is only justified when there are two belligerent forces that agree on the peacekeeping force,” said Nkurunziza. “That is not the case here, because we are facing a security problem. It’s not a political question, because that was settled by the elections.”

U.N. delegates also have appointments with members of civil society. Their trip ends in Addis Ababa, where they will meet with the African Union.

The day of the arrival, rebel forces united to name Godefroid Niyombare, who led a failed coup in May, as the leader of their official movement. They formed a coalition, the Republican Forces of Burundi, last month to protect the 2000 Arusha Accords, which established a power-sharing agreement to end the genocide and a nearly decade-long civil war in the country. The timing of the appointment “was not a coincidence,” a source told the AFP.

Bujumbura, Burundi

The rebels back the U.N. delegation, but also support negotiations with the government. While planned talks with the opposition have repeatedly failed to occur, Nkurunziza said that he will likely comply with the East African Community’s mediator, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, if his opposition counterparts have no connection with the May coup attempt, reported Info Grand Lacs, one of the last media organizations still functioning in the country.

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