AFRICAN Union (AU) political figurehead President Robert Mugabe has remained tightlipped while Burundi descends into chaos.
Mugabe is holidaying in the Far East, seemingly oblivious to his obligations as AU chairperson just over two weeks before he is expected to hand over to a new continental chairman. Yesterday, Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba refused to answer questions. “What can I help you with?” Charamba retorted after this reporter introduced himself.
Asked if the President as AU chairperson has made any efforts to assist with the deteriorating situation in Burundi, Charamba retorted: “Bye bye…bye bye.”
With the AU Commission’s December 17 deadline for Burundi to accept a 5 000-strong peacekeeping fo rce having expired without incident, the continental body’schief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in a statement yesterday threatened sanctions on warring groups both in Pierre Nkurunziza’s government and opposition formations.
“All those whose action could jeopardize the inter-Burundian dialogue, including attacks by armed groups against governmental facilities and other targets, as well as refusal to respond to the invitation of the mediator, shall be subjected to sanctions,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
Reports said representatives of Nkurunziza’s government and opposition met in Uganda on Monday and are due to meet again on January 6 in Arusha, northern Tanzania for talks aimed at ending months of violence.
Nine years following the end of a bloody civil war, Burundi is once again on the brink after Nkurunziza forced through constitutional changes to allow him a viciously opposed third presidential term raising fears of a return to all-out war in the tiny central African nation.
Between 1993 and 2006 at least 300 000 people reportedly lost their lives in ethnic violence between the minority Tutsis and majority Hutus.
According to media reports officials close to the negotiations there had been “no consensus yet” following the Kampala meeting. Nkurunziza has described the expected peacekeeping force as an “invasion force” and yesterday issued a stark warning it would be resisted.
“Everyone has to respect Burundi borders. In case they violate those principles, they will have attacked the country and every Burundian will stand up and fight against them. The country will have been attacked and it will respond,” Nkurunziza reportedly told state radio yesterday in his first public response to the unfolding drama.
The force, the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, is known by its acronym in French, MAPROBU.
While indicating a willingness to engage with Nkurunziza, Dlamini-Zuma said: “The rapid deployment of MAPROBU will go a long way in contributing to the creation of conditions conducive to the successful completion of the inter-Burundian dialogue”.
Mugabe accepted the AU chairmanship in January amid pomp and fanfare with his propagandists hailing it as a diplomatic coup for Africa’s elder statesman and a vote of confidence in his abilities as a leader.