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Burundi Opposition Leader Still Hopeful for Peaceful Settlement

FILE - Former South African President Nelson Mandela, center, poses with President Domitien Ndayizeye, left, and Jean Minani, speaker of Burundi parliament, July 21, 2004.

FILE - Former South African President Nelson Mandela, center, poses with President Domitien Ndayizeye, left, and Jean Minani, speaker of Burundi parliament, July 21, 2004.

The exiled leader of the Opposition Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) said efforts toward a peaceful resolution of the Burundian crisis are not dead because the Burundian people want peace.

Peace talks that were scheduled to resume on January sixth in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, did not take place because the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza said it would not negotiate with certain opposition figures it considers as “coup plotters” or “sponsors of acts of terrorism.”

But FRODEBU leader Jean Minani said the president has said 'the peace process can’t be dead because all Burundians expect to have peace. So, if the current government of Nkurunziza doesn’t want to negotiate, they will be forced to go into negotiation, he said.”

Peace negotiations

Minani said Nkurunziza has probably forgotten that peace negotiations are usually between enemies and not friends. He denied that some members of the opposition and civil society are seeking the violent overthrow of the government.

“When Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza negotiated on behalf of the CNDD-FDD (Burundi’s ruling party) there was a comment like this. But we accepted to negotiate with him. He knows that if you have to negotiate, you don’t negotiate with your friend; you negotiate with your enemies. It is because he has nothing to say to the people,” Minani said.

This came after the U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned last week that the Burundian crisis was increasingly taking on an ethnic dimension similar to the situation that preceded the 1994 Rwanda genocide that killed about 800,000 people.

The UN said cases of sexual violence by Burundian security forces were "deeply worrying."

At least 13 cases of sexual violence against women by security forces have been documented in the last month in the country, as well as a sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture cases.

Opposition areas

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the attacks were largely concentrated in neighborhoods perceived as supporting the opposition.

Minani said Nkurunziza does not want to negotiate because he knows he’s the cause of the crisis the country is experiencing today.

“Nkurunziza is the cause of the crisis of Burundi. He’s afraid to come with all the people, with the international community to talk with us because there’s nothing to talk about. He can’t come to talk with us because he knows he has nothing to talk about,” Minani said.

Burundi’s foreign minister Alain Nyamitwe told VOA last month his government is fighting against “terrorists” some of whom were using grenades to kill innocent civilians.

“Let me first of all say that it is unfortunate that people have died in that incident. But let me ask the question what would be the response of any police force wherever in the world when they are attacked by armed people who are using hand grenades sometimes, even rocket-propelled grenades, and sometimes even AK-47," Nyamitwe said.

"How do you respond to such fire? Is it by saying come and kill us, or by using fire because fire begets fire?” he added.

The Burundian crisis began last April after Nkurunziza's decision to seek a controversial third five-year term, something the U.S. and Nkurunziza’s opponents say violates the constitution and a peace deal that brought the Burundi civil war to an end after the loss of 300,000 lives.