BUJUMBURA, Burundi, The African Union will abandon plans to send 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi in an effort to restore stability, a plan which was condemned by embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza.
A.U. officials will instead work to encourage political dialogue between opposing sides, BBC News reports. The A.U. could deploy peacekeepers without Burundi’s approval due to a clause written in the A.U. charter that allows intervention in a member state due to grave circumstances including war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
But the A.U. has never deployed without consent and top A.U. diplomat Ibrahima Fall said the move would have been “unimaginable.” A.U. Peace and Security Council chief Smail Chergui said a “high-level delegation” will be dispatched instead.
In December, a delegation of the A.U.’s African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights published a report depicting a grim reality on the ground in Burundi.
“During our interaction with stakeholders we received reports of ongoing human rights violations and other abuses including arbitrary killings and targeted assassinations, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, arbitrary suspension and closure of some civil society organizations and the media, etc.,” the report states.
There are fears Burundi, the second poorest country in the world, may slide into ethnic conflict. About 85 percent of Burundi’s population of 10.4 million are of the Hutu ethnicity, while about 14 percent are Tutsi. Ethnic violence between Hutus and Tutsis during Burundi’s civil war in the 1990s claimed about 300,000 lives.
In the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, between 500,000 to 1 million Rwandans were killed — predominately of the Tutsi population — by the Hutu-led government. In November, the A.U. said it was less equipped to deal with violence in Burundi than it was for the Rwandan Genocide.
Burundi has been in crisis since April last year when Nkurunziza announced he was seeking a third term, which critics argue violates the constitution.
In May, Burdundi’s constitutional court ruled in favor of Nkurunziza amid reports of judges being intimidated and army Gen. Godefroid Niyombare soon launched a failed coup d’etat.
Nkurunziza was reelected in July but the polls are disputed. Political violence has continued. At least 439 people have died and about 240,000 have fled the country since the start of the crisis.