Burundi threatens to cut ties with UN envoy: diplomats

UN envoy for Burundi Michel Kafando (left) shakes hands with President Pierre Nkurunziza during a visit in 2017 (AFP Photo/STR) (AFP/File)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Burundi is threatening to cut ties with the UN envoy appointed to the country, ahead of elections next year that the government in Bujumbura insists are an internal matter, according to UN diplomats.

The UN Security Council abruptly scrapped a meeting on Burundi scheduled for Tuesday after Burundi's government made clear it was ready to end relations with Michel Kafando, council diplomats said.

Kafando, a former president of Burkina Faso, was appointed in 2017 to lead UN efforts in Burundi, which was wracked by more than a decade of war that ended in 2006.

France requested that the council hold a closed-door meeting on Burundi on Friday, but those talks were pushed back to June to allow time to defuse the situation, diplomats said.

Asked about the row with Burundi over the envoy, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Thursday: "I am not aware of any official announcement from Burundi, so there is nothing to respond to as yet."

Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in 2015 in elections boycotted by most of the opposition.

At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in violence between April 2015 and May 2017 that the UN says was mostly carried out by state security forces.

But in a surprise development, Nkurunziza announced last year that he would not stand for elections in 2020, confounding critics who accused him of working to extend his grip on power.

Burundi's UN Ambassador Albert Shingiro has since demanded that the Security Council put an end to meetings, held every three months, on the situation in his country.

Shingiro argues that the situation in Burundi is not a threat to international peace and security, a stance supported by Russia, China and African countries on the council, diplomats said.

"The 2020 electoral process in Burundi is an internal affair," Shingiro told AFP. "Burundi will not allow meddling by any foreign actor, regardless of their status."

Relations between the United Nations and Burundi have been tense. In March, Burundi shut down the UN human rights office in Bujumbura.

Kafando replaced Jamal Benomar, who was UN envoy for two years before the Bujumbura government demanded his resignation.

Burundi's threats come just four months after Somalia expelled a UN envoy who raised questions about human rights.