African Union says ready to send 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi crisis

The African Union said on Friday it was preparing to send 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi to protect civilians caught up in a growing crisis, for the first time using powers to deploy troops to a member country against its will.

Burundi dismissed the announcement, saying no foreign force would get in without permission.

But its neighbours have grown increasingly alarmed about the violence in the central African state which the United Nations says is on the brink of civil war.

Tensions have been running particularly high since gunmen attacked military sites in the capital Bujumbura last week, unnerving a region where memories of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda are still raw.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council said in a statement it had drawn up plans for the force – to be called MAPROBU – and had asked the U.N. Security Council to give it the final clearance it needed to get boots on the ground.
The U.N. Security Council has already been looking at ways to tackle the crisis, including sending in peacekeepers.

    “(The AU body) decides that MAPROBU shall have an initial strength of up to 5,000 military personnel and police,” as well as human rights observers and military experts, it added.

Burundi’s government spokesman, Philippe Nzobonariba, said the force would not be allowed in without permission.

    “They can’t invade a country if the latter is not informed and allow it,” he said on state radio.
    “It would be better if they go to those camps in Rwanda where troublemakers train,” Nzobonariba added.

The government has accused Rwanda of supporting rebels who are recruiting Burundian refugees.

The United Nations says at least 400 people have been killed since April when President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in office triggered protests and a failed coup.

Demonstrators said the president’s decision to stand in an election he eventually won broke constitutional term limits, while his supporters pointed to a court ruling allowing his bid.

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