epa05068058 A Burundian expatriate woman holds a placard reading 'Burundi bleeds' during a candlelight vigil held for Burundi in Nairobi, Kenya, 13 December 2015. Kenyan activists and Burundians residing in Kenya held a candlelight service to call for peace in Burundi, that has been gripped by violence between police and armed groups since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office. Human rights activists say more than 240 people have been killed in protests and attacks since April, while more than 220,000 are believed to have fled the country. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA

Pretoria – South Africa seems likely to become involved in the protracted negotiations to resolve the crisis in Burundi.

And a special envoy of Burundi’s embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza has also told South African President Jacob Zuma that the Burundian leader might accept an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in the country after all – after firmly rejecting it until now.

South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane disclosed these significant and hopeful new developments in the Burundi saga in Pretoria on Thursday.

Burundi has been embroiled in a deteriorating crisis, with growing violence, since April last year when Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term as president, despite the two-term limit in the constitution.

Nkoana-Mashabane said Zuma and she had met the Burundian special envoy, Pascal Nyabenda – the Speaker of Parliament – earlier and she had met him again on her own on Wednesday. She had also met the Tanzanian foreign minister Augustine Mahiga in South Africa recently.

Both of them had said they wanted South Africa to participate in the East African Community (EAC)-led mediation in Burundi which was being conducted by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Tanzania currently chairs the EAC and Nkoana-Mashabane said Mahiga told her the EAC would “love South Africa to play the role which Zuma had played in the past”. As Deputy President to former President Thabo Mbeki, Zuma helped broker some of the deals which ended the fighting between the then Tutsi-minority government of Pierre Buyoya and ushered in the current Hutu-majority government ten years ago.

“So we have been assured of an invitation to participate in this process, not only by the foreign minister, but also the special envoy of Burundi who I saw even yesterday,” Nkoana-Mashabane said on Thursday.

She added that if the formal invitation arrived, South Africa would accept it.

“If South Africa receives the invitation, as promised, to support the initiatives of the East African Community, South Africa would not fail any African region that seeks South Africa’s support.”

There would be no clash with Museveni’s mediation which South Africa would support, she added.

And the minister said Nyabenda had also told Zuma that Burundi was still “seriously considering” the African Union’s request to it to allow a AU peacekeeping force to go into Burundi.

Until now the Burundi government has flatly rejected what it called a planned “invasion” force by the AU.

The minister said there would be no invasion. “But if there is a need for a protective force to take care of citizens while negotiations are taking place, they will consider that. The special envoy said he would take this matter back home.”

She said Burundi should be given the opportunity to digest this idea. There would also be an opportunity to discuss it at the AU summit in Addis Ababa next week.

“But the reality is we would want to see Burundi returning back to peace and normalcy.”

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