Burundi drops threat to quit peacekeeping in Somalia

Friday January 20 2017

From left: African Union representative for Burundi Ibrahima Fall; Commissioner of Peace and Security for AU Smail Chergui; Burundi's ministers Foreign Affairs, Alain Aime Nyamitwe; Security, Alai Guillaume Bunyoni; Defence, Emmanuel Ntahomvukiye; and Lieutenant General Prime Nyongabo in Bujumbura on January 19, 2017. AFP PHOTO | ONESPHORE NIBIGIRA

Burundi said Thursday it would not follow through on its planned withdrawal of troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) after reaching an agreement over the payment of wages.

The European Union funds Amisom salaries, which are disbursed by the AU, but Bujumbura has not received them for months as European diplomats seek to avoid sending money directly to a government against which the bloc imposed sanctions in response to a nearly two-year-long political crisis.

“We have found a solution that safeguards our national sovereignty and therefore the issue of the withdrawal of our soldiers from Amisom no longer arises,” Mr Gaston Sindimwo, Burundi’s first vice-president, told AFP, after meeting with AU officials in Bujumbura.

On Monday, Mr Sindimwo said the process of withdrawing Burundi’s 5,400 soldiers from Somalia had begun, triggering an emergency visit to Bujumbura by an AU delegation led by peace and security commissioner Smail Chergui.

“We are satisfied, we have had a good discussion with Mr Chergui and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed,” said Mr Sindimwo.

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He said according to the agreement soldiers’ salaries would bypass the Central Bank and instead be paid through a private bank in Burundi. Mr Sindimwo called the deal a “good compromise”.

It was not immediately clear whether the EU would accept the agreement. Burundi has been in the throes of a serious, sometimes deadly political crisis since April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term.