DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – African leaders began talks in Tanzania on Sunday in their second summit in a month aimed at restoring peace in Burundi, which has been hit by violent protests over the president’s plan to run for a third term.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, who faced a coup attempt while in Dar es Salaam for the first summit on May 13, did not attend the meeting. He was represented by the country’s foreign minister, Alain Aime Nyamitwe.
The heads of state of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, which together with Burundi and Rwanda form the East African Community (EAC) common market, attended the summit. They were joined by South African President Jacob Zuma.
Burundi and Rwanda sent foreign ministry officials rather than heads of state, a Tanzanian foreign ministry official said.
Tanzania’s foreign minister, Bernard Membe, told reporters regional leaders would seek a solution to the political turmoil in Burundi and discuss the plight of refugees fleeing violence in the east African country.
Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term unleashed Burundi’s worst political crisis since an ethnically-driven civil war ended in 2005.
Many people fear the violence could lead to renewed ethnic bloodletting between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.
Rights groups say at least 20 people have been killed by police since protests erupted in late April.
More than 70,000 Burundians have fled the country, according to the U.N’s refugee agency UNHCR..
They have headed to Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda, which shares a similar ethnic mix and suffered a genocide in 1994 in which 800,000 people were killed.
Critics say Nkurunziza’s bid violates the constitution. The president’s supporters disagree, and say a constitutional court ruling allows him to run.