What's In Blue

Briefing on Burundi Following Attacks on Military Bases

This afternoon (11 December), Council members will be briefed, at the request of France, under “any other business” by Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, on the unfolding situation in Burundi following attacks on military bases in Bujumbura early this morning. Some Council members hope to get agreement on a press statement or press elements condemning all violence and calling for calm.

Council members will be eager to gain a better understanding of recent events. Furthermore, they will be interested in hearing Benomar’s assessment of whether these attacks reflect a further escalation in violence and the prospects that the military will become engaged in the internal unrest.

Though the exact details remain hazy at press time, it seems that during the early hours of this morning, armed assailants conducted a coordinated attack on a military base in Ngagara in the north of Bujumbura, and on the ISCAM Higher Institute of Military Training as well as a nearby army camp in the south of the city, in Musaga. Military spokesman Col. Gaspard Baratuza stated that the attackers were attempting to steal arms and free prisoners. He added that 12 assailants were killed and 20 arrested. Some reports indicate that five soldiers were killed in the heavy exchange of fire that lasted several hours, though military officials claim they were only injured. Presidential media adviser Willy Nyamitwe described the raids as “a diversion” to try to free prisoners and said that the situation has returned to normal.

The political turmoil and violence following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a highly controversial third term in April has led to at least 240 people killed and roughly 220,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries. Over 40 people have died since 7 November, when the President’s ultimatum for Burundians to hand in all weapons ended. The attack is the first on military targets since the crisis began. So far, the military has mainly remained on the sidelines of the violence between the police and opposition supporters. At press time, no group had claimed responsibility for the latest attacks.

The Council adopted resolution 2248 last month (12 November), expressing its intention to consider additional measures against “all Burundian actors whose actions and statements contribute to the perpetuation of violence and impede the search for a peaceful solution”. The resolution also invited the Secretary-General to deploy a team in Burundi to coordinate and work with the government, the AU and other partners to assess the situation and develop options to address political and security concerns. The Secretary-General was then requested to update the Council on the situation within 15 days and then regularly thereafter, in particular on security and on violations and abuses of human rights, and incitement to violence or hatred against different groups.

Accordingly, Benomar briefed the Council on 30 November under “any other business” after visiting the region and meeting with Nkurunziza, and presented the Council with brief options for a future UN presence: a peacekeeping operation, a special political mission, or a UN “support team” to enhance UN presence in the country (S/2015/926). Considering that the government remains opposed to the first two options, the Secretary-General is focusing on the third option. Under the leadership of Benomar, a support team, as mandated by resolution 2248, is expected to be deployed soon. The team will support inter-Burundian dialogue, advise the government on strengthening rule of law institutions and disarmament issues, coordinate with regional actors, monitor and report on the situation on the ground and facilitate future UN planning for a further presence in Burundi. Council members may ask Benomar for an update on the deployment of a support team.

Another issue discussed on 30 November was a US initiative for a Council visiting mission to Burundi between 10 and 15 December. While all Council members agreed in principle that the mission should take place, some countries (Russia, Venezuela and the African members of the Council) questioned the timing from a logistical standpoint. They also suggested that it would be better for the Council to wait and see what effect the adoption of resolution 2248, Benomar’s visit and the recent visit by the head of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland) will have on the political situation in Burundi.

Council members have continued to discuss the idea of a visiting mission and are now looking at a mid to late January mission to Burundi. Council members may be interested in hearing Benomar’s views on whether, given the recent developments, any Council visiting mission should be postponed or brought forward.

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