Burundi rebels announce force to oust president

Burundi’s rebels came together Wednesday for the first time as a force aimed at ousting President Pierre Nkurunziza, after months of bloodshed in the troubled central African country.

The formation of the insurgents comes amid mounting regional pressure on the government to accept African Union peacekeepers it calls an “invasion force”.

The 54-member AU said last week it would send a 5,000-strong force to halt violence that has sparked fears Burundi is sliding back towards civil war, and has pledged to send troops despite the government’s fierce opposition.

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Pushing for Burundi’s acceptance of the AU force will be a key part of talks in Uganda on December 28, regional diplomats said.

The rebels have formed a force “to protect the population” and uphold the Arusha Agreement that paved the way to the end of the 1993-2006 civil war but which they say Nkurunziza has violated by his third term in power.

The rebels have called themselves the Republican Forces of Burundi, or “Forebu” from its name in French, Les Forces Republicaines du Burundi, said Edward Nshimirimana, a former army colonel turned rebel.

“Our goal is to drive out Nkurunziza by force to restore the Arusha accord and democracy,” Nshimirimana told AFP by telephone.

Nkurunziza, an ex-rebel and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to rule, won a third term in office in July.