The Burundian government and political opposition groups are committed to resolving the disputes that have flared into violence, with a less than week left before a presidential vote that sparked the unrest, a mediator said.
Discussions between the groups, which have included civil society activists, opposition parties and three former presidents, are making progress and they aim to report back with proposals as soon as possible, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.
Museveni, who was picked by the five-nation East African Community to mediate an end to the political crisis, led efforts for two days in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, and his defense minister, Crispus Kiyonga, will arrive on Thursday to take over that role.
The unrest in Burundi was sparked by an announcement in late April that President Pierre Nkurunziza will run for re-election, a decision that opponents say violates a two-term limit stipulated in a 2005 peace accord that ended a 12-year civil war. Nkurunziza’s supporters say his first term doesn’t count because he was endorsed by parliament and not elected by the public. The announcement sparked clashes between protesters and security forces, leaving at least 77 people dead, and led to a failed coup.
The East African Community, comprising Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, has called for elections to be delayed to July 30, from the current date of July 21, to give mediation a chance of succeeding. The United Nations has warned that the crisis puts Burundi at risk of escalating violence.
This week, Museveni met with Nkurunziza and Vice President Prosper Bazombanza who told him the government has disarmed youth groups, a key demand of regional leaders and the United Nations to pave the way for peaceful elections. A pro-government militia known as the Imbonerakure has committed human rights violations with people who fled the violence giving accounts of executions and torture, the UN said. Fearing that the unrest could spread, more than 100,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries in the past three months.
Museveni, who will have been in power for three decades when elections take place in Uganda next year, is himself poised to stand for re-election. He has paid the fees to file for the nomination of the ruling National Resistance Movement, his spokesman Don Wanyama said on Wednesday. Ugandan lawmakers removed presidential term limits in 2005.
Potential rivals for the NRM’s presidential nomination have been stymied, including former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who was briefly detained last week as he began campaigning.