Burundi govt to release 2,000 prisoners, hold talks with opposition

Tuesday February 23 2016

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza (left)

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza (left) stands next to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon during a press conference on February 23, 2016 in Bujumbura. PHOTO | AFP 


Burundian government has agreed to release 2,000 prisoners and to hold talks with the opposition to end a 10-month-old political crisis, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said Tuesday.

Ban arrived in Bujumbura Monday evening in a 24-hour visit for talks with President Pierre Nkurunziza, as well as leaders of political parties and civil society aimed at ending months of deadly unrest.

After meeting with Nkurunziza, as well as government and opposition politicians, the UN chief said that all sides had agreed to "inclusive dialogue" and that the president "confirmed, that he would engage in political dialogue."

Last week, judicial authorities in Burundi cancelled international arrest warrants against 15 exiled political figures including several opposition leaders, a move Ban said was a major step and showed the willingness of the government to put an end to the crisis.

The UN Human Rights office reported increased arrests, detention and killings in Burundi since September with the government accusing opposition and civil society leaders, who led protests against Nkurunziza's third term of causing instability in the country.

“We thank the international community’s good decision on respecting the country’s sovereignty and we have agreed and accept to continue collaborating with them to find a lasting solution for Burundi,” said President Nkurunziza said Tuesday.

Five African leaders are also set to visit Bujumbura Thursday to push for progress in the stalled peace efforts, after the African Union summit in January abandoned plans to send 5,000 peacekeeping troops into Burundi without the consent of Nkurunziza's government.

The African Union delegation, headed by South African President Jacob Zuma, will be in Bujumbura for a two-day visit.

Also on the visit are presidents Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, Macky Sall of Senegal, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia.

Burundi was thrown into crisis last April when Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third term that he went on to win in July. Since then, clashes between loyalists and the opposition have turned increasingly violent.

The UN has warned Burundi risks a repeat of the 1993-2005 civil war, with over 400 dead since April and more than 230,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Additional reporting by Moses Havyarimana.