Burundi undermining key pillar of peace deal: envoys

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza has been in power since 2005 (AFP Photo/Landry Nshimiye)

Nairobi (AFP) - Top envoys warned Wednesday that Burundi's government showed a "disturbing intent" to scrap ethnic quotas in positions of power, a key pillar of a peace deal that ended a 13-year war.

The diplomats, from the United Nations, African Union, European Union, Belgium and United States, called on all sides to "recommit to a transparent, inclusive, and comprehensive political dialogue".

Violence began in April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched his now successful bid for a third term in power. In mid-May, rebel generals attempted a coup, which failed, but they have since launched a rebellion.

"Following months of unrest and the controversial electoral process, the Burundian government can begin to restore credibility through engagement in an inclusive political dialogue with political parties," the envoys said in a statement.

"The Burundian government cannot afford to continue down a road marred by instability, division, extreme economic decline, and humanitarian crisis," they added.

There are widespread fears -- both inside and outside Burundi -- that the tiny country in the heart of central Africa's troubled Great Lakes region could be plunged back into civil war.

The last civil war in Burundi, which ended in 2006, left at least 300,000 people dead.

- Aid crisis -

But the envoys warned that the government was undermining a central pillar of the 2000 agreement that paved the way to end that war, by repealing ethnic quotas for key positions of power between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi peoples.

The envoys said the ending last week of ethnic and gender balances in the National Assembly's leadership committee "indicate a disturbing intent by the ruling party to repeal one of the fundamental principles of peace and stability that enabled Burundi to emerge from protracted civil war".

The joint statement was issued in Kenya by UN envoy Said Djinnit, AU envoy Ibrahima Fall, US envoy Thomas Perriello, Koen Vervaeke from the EU and Frank De Coninck of former colonial ruler Belgium.

The political crisis has badly dented Burundi's economy.

"Already one of the most fragile economies in the world, Burundi's economy has plummeted further in recent months and shows little sign that it can recover in the absence of a resolution to the political crisis," the envoys added.

Thousands have fled fearing further violence into neighbouring Tanzania, as well as to Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

"A dialogue that brings about a political resolution to the instability in Burundi is the best route to encourage the safe return of refugees and prevent regional instability," the envoys added.

The UN on Tuesday said they had registered over 181,000 Burundians as refugees in neighbouring nations, but that the number who have fled is likely "significantly higher".

Aid workers were stockpiling supplies in "anticipation of a deterioration in the humanitarian situation" in the country, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

"Food prices have risen significantly, tax revenues have declined, and foreign aid -- which accounts for about half of Burundi's national budget -- is being significantly scaled back or suspended entirely by donors upset with the political impasse and rampant human rights violations," OCHA said in its latest report.

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