Burundi drops threat to withdraw troops from AU Somalia mission

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Nairobi - Burundi said on Thursday it would not follow through on its planned withdrawal of troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) after reaching an agreement over the payment of wages.

The EU funds Amisom salaries, which are disbursed by the AU, but Bujumbura has not received them for months as European diplomats seek to avoid sending money directly to a government against which the bloc imposed sanctions in response to a nearly two-year-long political crisis.

"We have found a solution that safeguards our national sovereignty and therefore the issue of the withdrawal of our soldiers from Amisom no longer arises," Gaston Sindimwo, Burundi's first vice-president, told AFP, after meeting with AU officials in Bujumbura.

On Monday, Sindimwo said the process of withdrawing Burundi's 5 400 soldiers from Somalia had begun, triggering an emergency visit to Bujumbura by an AU delegation led by peace and security commissioner Smail Chergui.

"We are satisfied, we have had a good discussion with Mr. Chergui and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed," said Sindimwo.

He said according to the agreement soldiers' salaries would bypass the Central Bank and instead be paid through a private bank in Burundi.

Sindimwo called the deal a "good compromise".

It was not immediately clear whether the EU would accept the agreement.

Burundi has been in the throes of a serious, sometimes deadly political crisis since April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term which opponents said was unconstitutional.

He went on to win an election in July that was boycotted by the opposition and criticised by outside observers.

The violence in Burundi has so far killed at least 500 people and driven more than 300 000 to leave the country.

The EU's decision to suspend payment of Burundian soldiers' salaries via Bujumbura is part of efforts to increase pressure on the government.

In March, the European Union - Burundi's largest donor - suspended direct aid to the regime.

The African Union, which is due to hold its next summit in Addis Ababa at the end of January, in November condemned the EU decision to suspend payment of Burundian soldiers' wages, warning of a potentially negative impact on the security situation in Somalia.

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