African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has called on feuding groups in Burundi to try and cooperate with each other at peace talks, due to begin tomorrow.

Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza is under pressure to accept a 5,000-strong peace-keeping force from the AU to stop eight months of violence and instability.

The AU sought to reassure the Burundian government that it has no agenda other than to protect civilians.

Independent analyst Helmut Heitman said sending African Union peace keepers into Burundi would be messy.

“How are you going to protest civilians in the middle of the fire with African guerillas and government forces? Who’s a civilian, is a person who just put his firearm behind the cupboard a civilian?”

On Thursday, anti-government groups threatened to oust Nkurunziza, who has announced that he would run for a third term sparked a failed coup and months of protests.

But Heitman said his removal hinges on whether the army will abandon him.

“The only chance really is if the military abandon them. If the military decides we’re not going to support him, we’re neutral.”

Hietman added peacekeepers may not be able to restore stability, saying they were not fast enough to react to the violence.

The African Union sought to reassure Burundi on Friday that a plan to send peacekeepers there is meant to bring a peaceful end to eight months of violence, and is not part of any “other agenda.”

It would be the first time the bloc has invoked powers to deploy troops to a member country against its will. Burundi has said the proposed force is a violation of its sovereignty and that no troops will enter the country without its permission.

Dlamini-Zuma contacted President Nkurunziza to make clear that the AU has no other agenda than to assist the government and people of Burundi at their hour of need, consistent with its commitment to promote African solutions to African problems.

It said in a statement that Dlamini-Zuma had “expressed the AU’s readiness to rapidly initiate discussions with the government of Burundi to devise the best ways and means of facilitating the deployment of the mission, in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation”.

The crisis began in April when Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term, sparking a failed coup and months of street protests.

The United Nations says at least 400 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled the country. The violence has unnerved a region that remains volatile two decades after the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

Dlamini-Zuma called on Burundi’s feuding sides to cooperate with peace talks, which are scheduled to resume in Uganda on 28 December.

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