President Jacob Zuma is set to jet off to Burundi on Thursday to lead a mission of African leaders to help facilitate talks in the conflict-ridden country.
The announcement from Zuma’s office on Tuesday came as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza and the opposition had agreed to talks to end the political crisis, which has lasted 10 months.
Zuma, who was a mediator during the 2000 peace agreement that ended Burundi’s civil war, was appointed by African Union chairperson, Chad President Idriss Deby Itno, to lead a high-level delegation consisting of Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
He will also be accompanied by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
The high-level panel was appointed at the African Union summit last month after the continental body decided against sending peacekeeping troops to Burundi without the country’s permission.
Zuma and his delegation are also set to meet with newly re-elected Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been the regional facilitator of the dialogue in Burundi.
Zuma told SABC News Online that he was appointed as mediator in Burundi’s peace talks – his previous role.
He also said that he has spoken to Ban on the phone on Monday, ahead of his visit to Burundi.
Zuma has in the past few months refrained from making public pronouncements on Burundi, with no mention of the troubled country in the ANC’s annual January 8th birthday statement, or even in his State of the Nation address at the opening of Parliament earlier this month.
According to reports at least four people were killed in grenade attacks by motorcyclists ahead of Ban’s arrival in Bujumbura on Monday. It’s his first visit to Burundi since the violence started in April last year when Nkurunziza got special permission from the courts to run for a third term.
AFP reported that France proposed at the UN that a UN police force be deployed in Burundi to help quell the violence. The country hoped that the statement will be adopted by the AU’s high-level delegation.
More than 400 people have died so far and more than 240 000 have fled the country.
Of these, about 75 000 have fled to Rwanda, where the government announced it would relocate the refugees to other countries, amid accusations that Kigali was meddling in Burundi’s affairs.
Last month UN Ambassador to the US, Samantha Power, visited Burundi and expressed her disappointment at Burundi’s refusal to allow 5 000 peacekeeping troops into the country.