Nairobi – Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye says he is ready “to dialogue” with Burundian rebels operating in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo’s violence-torn east, in his first press briefing since taking power two years ago.
The president mentioned in particular the RED-Tabara, the most active of the rebel groups, which is deemed “terrorist” by Burundi, as well as the National Forces of Liberation (FNL).
“If the RED-Tabara and the FNL ask to negotiate, we are ready to welcome them and to dialogue with them,” Ndayishimiye told Tuesday’s briefing, which lasted more than six hours.
“It is the role of the government to listen to the grievances of all its children and provide answers,” Ndayishimiye said, referencing a Kirundi adage that “the place of a scoundrel is in his country.”
Founded in 2011, RED-Tabara, a force estimated to number between 500 and 800 men that has a base in eastern DRC, has been accused of a string of attacks in Burundi since 2015.
Exiled Burundian opposition figure Alexis Sinduhije told AFP in November that the group was building in strength and now had a presence in Burundi.
According to some sources, Sinduhije is the founder of the movement, a claim he has always denied.
In September, RED-Tabara claimed responsibility for an attack on the international airport of Bujumbura, Burundi’s economic capital, where several attacks had taken place in the same month.
The FNL, led by self-proclaimed general Aloys Nzabampema, is a residual branch of the former rebellion of Agathon Rwasa, now Burundi’s main opposition leader.
Both the FNL and RED-Tabara rebel groups have bases in eastern DR Congo, a region destabilised by the presence of dozens of local and foreign armed groups.
More than a thousand Burundian soldiers have been present for several months in the South Kivu province of eastern DRC mainly to track the RED-Tabara rebels, according to Congolese and Burundian sources, an account that the two countries deny.
The regional East African Community last month held talks in Nairobi on the violence by the armed groups that has plagued DRC for more than two decades.
After the meeting, Ndayishimiye called on the members of RED-Tabara to lay down their arms, describing them as “criminals.”
The group reacted by condemning “insulting language and remarks.”
Picture: Facebook/ @Présidence – République du Burundi