Burundi’s parliament Monday unanimously rejected planned African Union peacekeepers despite growing international alarm over sporadic killings by armed groups and extrajudicial executions by government soldiers.
In a debate that lasted about five hours and for the first time saw lawmakers from the two chambers of parliament hold joint discussions, the legislators said the deployment of the force would be in violation of the country’s Constitution and sovereignty.
“Since the December 11th attack on military bases in Bujumbura there has been an outcry and rumours of genocide, a move that has let some foreign countries to violate Burundi’s independence by calls for the deployment of peacekeepers,” said Pascal Nyabenda, the Speaker of the National Assembly.
On December 17, the African Union Peace and Security Council resolved to send 5,000 peacekeepers for an initial renewable mandate of six months to protect civilians.
The decision followed a report by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights sent to Burundi by the AU from December 7 to 13 on a fact finding mission, which revealed cases of arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, targeted assassinations as well as arrests, detentions and torture.
The council said it would not allow another genocide on Africa’s soil. It gave the government a 96-hour deadline to agree to the offer, but warned it would send troops anyway. The four-day deadline ended Monday.
But the Burundi parliament said there was no need for MAPROBU (a French acronym for African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi) as the security forces in the country are able to do their job.
“MAPROBU will have the mandate of protecting the civilians which is the same for Burundian army and security forces,” read a statement by the lawmakers.
In the worst violence in the country since failed May coup, armed groups attacked two military bases in the capital Bujumbura that saw at least 87 people die in the battle that ensued with human rights groups accusing government forces of extrajudicial killings.
Burundi dismissed the criticism saying its security forces acted professionally and there was ‘no collateral damage.’ According to Burundi police, four policemen, four soldiers and 79 of the attackers lost their lives.
However the residents of Nyakabiga, a Bujumbura suburb at the heart of the fighting, accuse the security forces of forceful arrests and extrajudicial killings.
“I think they should deploy the peacekeeping mission because right now if you see a soldier or police officer knocking at your door then you are in trouble; the deployment may improve the current situation,” said a Nyakabiga resident.
More than 300 people have been killed since April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a third term which he won in a controversial July election.