Burundi president agrees to talks, free prisoners – U.N.’s Ban


Burundi’s president promised on Tuesday to hold talks, free prisoners and lift arrest warrants to try and end months of violence, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said after the two men met in the capital.

Ban told reporters Pierre Nkurunziza had also assured him media restrictions would be lifted during their session – part of a mounting diplomatic push to quell fighting in the central African nation, 10 years after it emerged from an ethnically-charged civil war.

More than 400 people have been killed since April when Nkurunziza said he would run for a third term, triggering street protests and a coup attempt. Opposition parties say his election bid, which he went on to win, was unconstitutional.

Ban met leaders of political parties in the capital Bujumbura after arriving on Monday night, then went to the president’s office on Tuesday.
“I was very encouraged that the political leaders whether they are …in government or the ruling party or opposition, they promised that they will engage in inclusive dialogue. This is what President Nkurunziza also confirmed,” Ban said.

Nkurunziza had also promised to free 1,200 prisoners, Ban added. “This is an encouraging step. I hope again that additional measures will be taken,” he said. The presidency later put out a statement saying 2,000 people would be freed.

Other African powers are particularly worried about the violence in a country where memories are still fresh of the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

South Africa said President Jacob Zuma would fly to Bujumbura on Feb. 25-26 with the leaders of Mauritania, Senegal, Gabon and Ethiopia to “assist with addressing the political situation”.

Nkurunziza has already rejected African Union plans to send in peacekeepers, saying he would see their arrival as an invasion.