African Union deploys military and rights observers to Burundi

Addis Ababa (AFP) - The African Union said Wednesday it had begun deployment of military and human rights observers to Burundi, where vote counting was underway a day after a presidential election.

Results from the polls, which have been condemned as illegitimate by the international community after sparking months of deadly violence that forced tens of thousands to flee the country, are expected later in the week.

The AU teams are aimed to "prevent an escalation of violence in Burundi and to facilitate the completion of efforts to resolve the serious crisis" in the country, the pan-African bloc said in a statement.

The polls, which were marred by violence, are expected to see incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza win a controversial third term.

Anti-Nkurunziza protests have been violently repressed, leaving at least 100 people dead since late April. Many opponents have also fled -- joining an exodus of more than 150,000 ordinary Burundians who fear their country may again be engulfed by widespread violence.

Military experts will help monitor the "disarmament of militias and other armed groups", the AU added.

The Imbonerakure, which means "those who see far", are the ruling party's youth wing, have been branded a militia by the United Nations.

Human rights monitors will "report on possible violations of human rights and international humanitarian law."

Details were not given of how many observers would be deployed, and from which countries they will come from. The AU did not send election observers, and had called on the polls to be delayed.

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma urged all sides in Burundi to ensure "their full cooperation to the team of observers", and warning the political rivals only "dialogue and consensus" would solve the crisis.

The AU "urgently calls on all Burundian parties to put the interest of their country above partisan considerations," the statement added.

Nkurunziza's CNDD-FDD party scored a widely expected landslide win in last month's parliamentary polls that were boycotted by the opposition.

UN electoral observers -- some of the few international monitors in Tuesday's poll -- said the last round of voting took place in a "climate of widespread fear and intimidation".

The presidential election is likely to be seen in the same light, diplomats said, meaning Nkurunziza -- whose nation is heavily aid-dependent -- will probably also face international isolation.