AU Peace keepersAfrican leaders failed at the weekend to authorise a proposed peacekeeping force to stem violence in Burundi in the face of vehement opposition from the government in Bujumbura.

Instead, the African Union (AU) is to send envoys for more talks, although previous negotiations have done nothing to end months of conflict.

The United Nations has warned that Burundi risks a repeat of the 1993-2006 civil war, with hundreds of people killed since April last year, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a controversial third term. At least 230,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.

Burundi has consistently opposed the idea of the AU’s planned 5,000-strong peacekeeping mission, saying that the deployment of troops without its express permission would be tantamount to an “invasion force”.

The AU charter’s Article 4(h) gives the pan-African bloc the right to intervene in a fellow nation-state “in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”.

But top AU diplomat Ibrahima Fall said that sending troops without Burundi’s approval was “unimaginable”, with the bloc deciding to send envoys to hold talks with the government. “There is no will: neither to occupy nor to attack,” AU Peace and Security Council chief Smail Chergui added, saying that troops could be sent in the future “if Burundi accepts it”.

Clashes between government loyalists and the opposition have become increasingly violent. “We want dialogue with the government, and the summit decided to dispatch a high-level delegation,” Mr Chergui said, without giving more details.

Burundian Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe said he was “satisfied” at the decision and that Bujumbura was “open to co-operating with the international community, particularly the AU”.

AU leaders spent two days debating the crisis in Burundi — as well as conflicts in South Sudan and Libya — at the 54-member bloc’s summit in Ethiopia.

Rwanda hosts the next AU summit, slated for July.

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