African Leaders Arrive in Burundi for Political Crisis Talks

  • Five heads of state making bid to quell 10 months of violence
  • Rights group says authorities using `increasing brutality'

Leaders of five African nations arrived in Burundi as part of a continental delegation seeking to quell a 10-month political crisis that’s claimed more than 440 lives.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Senegal’s Macky Sall were received by Burundi’s leader, Pierre Nkurunziza, late Wednesday at a ceremony at the airport in the capital, Bujumbura. South African President Jacob Zuma arrived early Thursday, as did Ethiopian premier Hailemariam Desalegn and Gabon’s Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba, Burundian government officials said.

The African Union appointed the panel to try and bring an end to unrest that’s forced about 230,000 people to flee Burundi since April, when Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, a move opponents said was unconstitutional. The landlocked country is home to 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves and a member of the East African Community, a regional bloc with a combined gross domestic product of $147.5 billion.

The leaders’ two-day visit comes as Human Rights Watch said Burundian authorities have targeted their opponents using “increased brutality,” with government forces “killing, abducting, torturing, and arbitrarily arresting scores of people at an alarming rate.”

Secret Detentions

In contrast to the second half of 2015, when dead bodies were discovered near-daily on Bujumbura’s streets, many abuses now occur “under the radar, with security forces secretly taking people away and refusing to account for them,” the New York-based group said in a statement. It said it had interviewed more than 63 people in the capital over the past four months, including victims, relatives, witnesses, security force officials and United Nations staff.

Human Rights Watch said Burundian government officials didn’t respond to its requests for meetings over the allegations. The group said that presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe told them in a Feb. 18 message that he had “strong” evidence “that HRW is working with Rwanda and radical opposition. In that case, there is no need to talk to them.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Nkurunziza during a visit to Burundi earlier this week and called for “inclusive” talks between the country’s political factions. Nyamitwe later told reporters that the government wouldn’t hold discussions with those who’d been involved in a failed coup in May nor members of the Cnared opposition coalition.

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