BUJUMBURA, Burundi — At least one person was killed as gunfire and explosions rocked the Burundi capital on Thursday evening, a local official and witnesses said, just as a UN Security Council delegation arrived to push for an end to months of political unrest.
One youth was shot dead by police after a grenade went off in Bujumbura's north-eastern Mutakura area, a local administrative source said, adding that a second person was injured by gun shots. The information was confirmed by several witnesses.
Explosions and gunfire were also heard between 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm (1630-1800 GMT) in the central Bwiza district, in southern Musaga neighbourhood and in the north of the city, residents said.
The unrest erupted shortly after UN Security Council ambassadors landed in Bujumbura to push the government to hold serious talks with the opposition and accept peacekeepers.
The delegation is seeking an end to the violence that has gripped the country since last April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza's announced his ultimately successful re-election bid.
Upon arrival on Thursday, the UN team was greeted by hundreds of protesters backing the government, carrying signs in English that said "genocide will not happen" and "stop interfering in Burundian affairs".
At a meeting planned for Friday, the council hopes to persuade Nkurunziza to agree to an African Union proposal of 5,000 peacekeepers, which his government has branded an "invasion force."
AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed "the fervent hope" that the UNSC ambassadors will "contribute toward achieving" the rapid deployment of the peacekeepers and the "immediate resumption of the inter-Burundian dialogue," in reference to stalled talks between the government and opposition.
Two former Burundian presidents also appealed to the UNSC to take action and pleaded for an AU force to be sent to the country.
"We really need that force," said Domitien Ndayizeye, who led the landlocked nation from 2003-2005.
The UN must "stop this bloodletting that is making our young people disappear," added Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, in power from 1976-1987.
Discussion of the peacekeeper deployment is expected to be a key element of talks at the AU summit in Ethiopia on January 30-31.
An AU deadline for Burundi to accept the force has long passed with no action yet taken to deploy the peacekeepers, named the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). — AFP