Zuma leads AU delegation to Burundi

iol news pic Burundi Jacob Zuma AP President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, 2nd left, lays a wreath of flowers at the tomb of Burundian First President, Melchior Ndadaye, in Bujumbura, Burundi. President Jacob Zuma is in Bujumbura with the leaders of Mauritania, Senegal, Gabon and Ethiopia for talks about the regional political situation. AP Photo

Bujumbura - The five Heads of State appointed by the AU to travel to Burundi to try and quell the volatile situation, starting arriving in Bujumbura on Wednesday night.

Contrary to the recent visit of UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, those five leaders were welcomed by Pierre Nkurunziza himself at Bujumbura International airport. Ban Ki Moon was received by Burundi First Vice president Gaston Sindimwo at Bujumbura International Airport, a sign of little interest on the part of the Burundian President in UN institutions.

At Bujumbura International Airport, South African Minister for International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told the press that the delegation brings hope.

“We bring a message of peace,” she said while Burundi Cooperation Minister Allain Aime Nyamitwe told the press that no one involved in armed rebellion or any coup plotters will be invited to talks with the Government.

“Only actors with peaceful behavior will be invited,” he said to reporters, minutes after the chairman of the delegation, President Jacob Zuma, had landed in Bujumbura. Zuma came with police and military armored vehicles for his two day visit to Burundi.

Since their arrival, the delegation was taken to the Independence hero’s memorial for a wreath laying ceremony.

They were also taken by Burundi officials to the grave of Burundi Democracy hero Melchior Ndadaye where guests also laid wreaths. “By taking them to such places, Burundi officials want the delegation to recognize its independence. This means they continue to reject the possible deployment of foreign troops, as officially they argue that Burundi is independent and sovereign,” Jean Paul Ndayisaba, a Burundi analyst said in an interview.

In the afternoon, until 4pm local time, leaders of the AU had not yet received leaders of political parties and civil society organizations.

During this time, all roads in Bujumbura were blocked by police and army officers, and some of the militias of the ruling party were dressed in civilian clothes. Buses were collecting civilians and pupils to take them to roads where the guests were supposed to pass, to clap hands and cry that the country is secure and sovereign.

According to sources, the Burundi government does not want some opposition figures to meet with the delegation.

“It is very difficult, even impossible to dream that this visit will change Burundi leaders’ attitudes towards the opposition. Since the visit of Ban Ki Moon, we got signs that the country was not going to easily open up to the opposition and exiled civil society leaders,” Ndayisaba went on.

Earlier on Thursday, Human rights Watch declared that arrests, intimidation, rapes and other human rights violations continue to take place in Tutsi dominated areas, and in opposition strongholds.

The International Crisis Group and Amnesty International said on Thursday that among arrested young men, some remain missing.

Zuma, who was appointed to lead the delegation, is the former mediator in the Burundi-opposition talks after former President Nelson Mandela gave up his role due to his age. In the AU team on Thursday, there is also Senegalese President Macky Sall, who was the former mediator in the Burkina Faso crisis. Zuma is also accompanied by Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz who is the former mediator in the Mali crisis. The team includes the Ethiopian Prime Minister and President of Gabon.

Foreign Service

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