A new round of talks aimed at ending Burundi’s lengthy political crisis began Tuesday in Arusha, Tanzania, though the negotiations were marked by the main opposition group’s absence.
Despite the absence of both the exiled leadership of the CNARED opposition and civil society and church groups, Burundian government officials described the talks as “totally inclusive”.
A programme handed out at the start of the talks said: “It is expected that these two weeks of discussion will allow participants to negotiate seriously.”
Regional heads of state hope to preside over the signing of an agreement on December 8, it said.
Burundi’s crisis began in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term that he went on to win in July that year.
Negotiations are aimed at ending “all forms of violence” and the proposed establishment of a “government of national unity”.
Tuesday’s talks come after months of deadlock as the government refused to meet with an opposition it accuses of being behind Burundi’s deadly violence.
However, hopes of a lasting agreement are low with the opposition absent and the most senior Burundian official present being the deputy interior minister.
“Bujumbura felt obliged to send a representative because of the enormous pressure exerted by the Ugandan and Tanzanian presidents… but then sends a man of secondary importance as if to say, ‘We must not expect anything of this session’,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
Around 10 figures from domestic opposition groups are participating in the talks. But CNARED boycotted after only some of its members were invited.
Last month Burundi began steps to amend the constitution allowing Nkurunziza to run for two more seven-year terms from 2020.
Opposition groups say the move undermines the constitution that was born out of a peace deal ending a civil war in 2006, after the deaths of over 300,000 people.