Burundi peace talks under former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa took off to a shaky start in Tanzanian tourist city of Arusha on Saturday with some of the key opposition politicians missing.
Mkapa was chairing the negotiations for the first time after he was appointed as a lead facilitator by the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit held in Arusha on March 2.
The chief mediator is President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who has been criticised for the slow pace of the mediation process which started sometime last year.
The missing delegates from the talks included Burundi politicians and representatives of the civil society groups in exile but who have been active against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term bid for presidency last year.
“I don’t know what formula was used in inviting the delegates. Some civil society organisations which are not partisan to the Burundi government could have been left out,” said Donald Deya, the CEO of the Pan African Lawyers’ Union (PALU) and prominent human rights activist lately involved in the solution to the crisis.
He said absent at start of the four-day talks included members of ‘Halt The Third Term’ movement which agitated to stop the Burundian leader for contesting the presidency for the third term opposition leaders claim was against the Constitution.
One of the opposition politicians and long critic of the government Leonard Nyangoma said he appreciated President Nkurunziza’s government toning down of its hardline stance this time around to sit down with all diverse groups in Burundi in search of lasting peace.
“For a start this is a good sign that nearly all political parties are represented in the negotiations,” he said.
Nyangoma is currently the chairperson of CNDD, one of the first opposition political parties to be formed in Burundi after the advent of multi-partyism in the 1990s.
The current ruling party CNDD-FDD led by President Nkurunziza is a splinter group from CNDD. Nevertheless, there were few political parties, opposition groups and CSOs delegates from within and outside the country at the Arusha talks on Saturday.
The Burundi government is represented to the talks by a high powered team led by three cabinet ministers led by the External Affairs minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe, the EAC Affairs Minister Leontine Nzeyimana and Home Affairs Minister Pascal Barandayiye.
The Burundian External Affairs Minister said the government was confident the discussions would progress well because some of President Nkurunziza’s vocal critics in exile as well as those living in the country have turned up for the talks.
Organisers said invitations have been sent to a total of 63 entities being officials of the Burundi government, former presidents of Burundi, political parties, CSOs, religious and what it described as selected important political actors there.
The talks which were also attended by special envoys from the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), the United Nations, United Kingdom (UK), the United States and Belgium and some diplomats accredited to Tanzania, will be concluded on Tuesday during which the way forward for the next round of talks will be made.
More than 500 people in Burundi have been killed and over 250,000 people fled to neighbouring countries, mostly Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the chaos started last year in the capital Bujumbura. Enditem