The African Union (AU)’s Peace and Security Council has proposed to dispatch 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi amid the deadly violence that has killed hundreds in the country.
According to an unnamed diplomat, the decision was made late Thursday. Burundi says a peacekeeping mission is not needed.
“We have authorized the deployment of a 5,000-man force for Burundi whose mandate includes the protection of civilians,” the diplomat from a member state of the council said.
The proposal, which is still a draft, should first receive the approval of the UN Security Council.
The move marks the first time that the AU is invoking Article 4 of its charter, under which it is entitled to deploy a force without a country’s consent.
The diplomat said the East African Standby Force (EASF) would make up the mission, called the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi. The force is to be tasked with protecting civilians and paving the way for dialogue in Burundi.
The current political crisis in Burundi is rooted in a conflict between supporters of President Pierre Nkurunziza and his opponents who say his re-election in July for a third term violated the constitution.
Last week, nearly 90 people were killed when armed men attacked three military facilities in the capital, Bujumbura.
The opposition says Nkurunziza’s re-election in July runs counter to the charter, which only allows two successive terms, as well as the 2000 Arusha Agreement, which paved the way for ending the civil war in the country.
Burundi had already been struggling to emerge from a 12-year ethnic-based civil war, which lasted from 1993 to 2005 and left about 300,000 people killed. The country has been plagued by tension between the usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority since independence in 1962.
Referring to the plan for sending troops to Burundi, senior AU official Bonaventure Cakpo Guebegde said on Friday that the 54-member bloc has two options.
“We send troops with Burundi government consent, or we wait for African Union heads of states’ consent, which means that two-thirds at least should agree,” he said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned of a possible civil war in the central African country that “risks engulfing the entire region.”
On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to send a team of investigators to Burundi, with special commissioner Zeid Ra’ad saying the country of about 11 million was “on the very cusp of civil war.”
AU rights investigators who returned from a fact-finding mission to Burundi this week reported “arbitrary killings and targeted assassinations” as well as arrests, detentions and torture in the country.
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