Burundi opposition seeks Zuma help

2011-08-11 08:55

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Bujumbura - A Burundi opposition coalition urged South African President Jacob Zuma, who arrived in this central African country on Wednesday, to kick-start negotiations between it and the government.

Key Burundi opposition figures went undercover or fled the country after President Pierre Nkurunziza was re-elected last year in polls they said were rigged by the government.

Nkurunziza last month called on the exiled leaders to return home for dialogue, a move welcomed by the opposition, but no talks have started.

"We call on President Jacob Zuma to kick-start negotiations between the government and the opposition ADC [Democratic Alliance for Change] coalition during his visit to Burundi," the group's leader Leonce Ngendakumana told reporters.

"These talks should be his priority because times are bad and the situation is getting out of hand. We are threatened by the resumption of a civil war, the poverty gripping the people and massive human rights violations," he added.

But Zuma dismissed the calls, saying he was not visiting to discuss internal politics.

"I came in a state visit to strengthen relations between our two countries, I have not come to discuss internal political problems," Zuma told reporters after arriving at Bujumbura airport late on Wednesday.

Bilateral ties

Then South Africa's vice president, Zuma took over from Nelson Mandela as mediator in the Burundi conflict after the 2000 Arusha peace accord.

He is credited with negotiating a ceasefire deal by six of Burundi's seven rebel groups, including the CNDD-FDD which is currently in power.

Burundi's Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana said Zuma's visit was aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and not to start talks with the opposition.

Recent violence in Burundi has raised fears of a resumption of all-out conflict in the country emerging from a civil war which left nearly 300 000 dead between 1993 and 2006.

However, Nkurunziza offered an upbeat welcome to Zuma.

"Today we have peace, security and democracy in Burundi - it's time to build our country - and we are pleased to see the former mediator come and see for himself how Burundians enjoy peace," Nkurunziza said.

- SAPA
Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  pierre nkurunziza  |  burundi  |  east africa
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