African Union hopeful of Burundi force approval

Addis Ababa - The African Union said on Thursday it was determined to end the crisis in Burundi as it readies for a key summit where leaders face an unprecedented vote on deploying a 5 000-strong peacekeeping force.

Burundi vehemently opposes any outside military force, but Aisha Abdullahi, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, said she was "optimistic" it would be pushed through.

"The peacekeeping mission that we intend to deploy to Burundi is a protection force, it is there to insure that violations are not committed - by anybody," Aisha Abdullahi, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, told AFP.

"When I say anybody I don't just mean the authorities - but also it could be the opposition, the rebels, whoever. And we hope, and we are optimistic, that Burundi will listen to us."

A two-thirds majority will be required to send the force, the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) although it remains unclear who would be willing to contribute troops to a mission Burundi has branded an "invasion force".

President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has not said if he will attend the summit, called last month on Burundians to "stand up to fight" if AU troops set foot in the country without permission.

Human rights observers

The AU charter's Article 4h gives the pan-African bloc the right to intervene in a fellow nation state in "grave circumstances" it lists as war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

"It's very clear there's human rights violations. People are dying, people are getting arrested, there are also allegations of women being raped. We know those atrocities have been committed on both sides," Abdullahi added.

Leaders at the summit, which opens on Saturday, will do all they can "to insure that these violations are brought to an end," she said.

A handful of AU observers are already in Burundi, with proposals to increase the number.

"We have human rights observers on the ground. Even though their work is silent, it's very discreet work - but it is very far reaching," Abdullahi said.

"We're trying to increase the number of human rights observers to prevent further violations of human rights."

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