EU envoy briefs Spring on conflict in Burundi


AN EU envoy said of Maj Buyoya of Burundi yesterday: "He must be planning some kind of glorious suicide if he thinks he can hold on to power without restoring Parliament."

Mr Aldo Ajello, the EU Special Envoy for the Africa Great Lakes Region (including Burundi and Rwanda), was in Dublin to brief the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, in his role as president of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers, on the situation in Burundi. Mr Spring was accompanied by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ms Joan Burton.

They discussed the role the EU could play in efforts to resolve the conflict in which some 150,000 people have been killed since 1993.

Maj Buyoya, a Tutsi, seized power from the former Hutu president, Mr Ntibatunganya, in a coup on July 25th. Mr Ntibatunganya is now residing in the US embassy in Burundi.

Countries in the region have condemned the coup and imposed sanctions on Burundi at a summit in Arusha, Tanzania, on July 31st. They declared that these would not be lifted until Maj Buyoya restores parliament, lifts the ban on political parties and begins negotiations with the Hutus.

The concern is that if Maj Buyoya does not implement democratic principles, the present crisis, with its ethnic dimensions, could degenerate into a bigger conflict that could proliferate beyond Burundian borders.

"It is significant that these African countries are taking the initiative and responsibility, and are standing up for the principles of democracy," Mr Ajello said.

"The Irish presidency," he added, "has been outstanding in pulling together, in a quick way, a united position of the 15 countries of the EU . . . I really am very grateful."

Under the Irish presidency, the EU has supported the stance taken by the regional leaders without imposing sanctions.

"Sanctions have not been imposed by the EU, both because those imposed by Kenya and Tanzania are capable of closing the doors to Burundi, and because we have to avoid a `sanction overkill'. There is the humanitarian aspect," he said.

Ms Burton, who visited the region between July 10th and 5th, said that the EU is committed to continuing its humanitarian assistance to Burundi and to helping in its reconstruction "once a negotiated settlement has been achieved".