Burundi’s Peacekeeping Experience Could Prove Deadly if Army Splits

Burundi chief of armed forces Gen. Prime Niyongabo visiting AMISON troops earlier this year. Photo: AMISOM

Burundi chief of armed forces Gen. Prime Niyongabo visiting AMISON troops earlier this year. Photo: AMISOM

May 14, 2015 – A former force commander with the African Union Mission in Somalia is fighting to prevent troops under his control from abandoning their posts and taking sides with Burundian coup leader Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare.

The chief of staff for Burundi’s armed forces, Gen. Prime Niyongabo, told the BBC on Thursday that the number of soldiers backing the coup had fallen and those that had joined have been given a chance to rejoin the regular army.

Niyongabo was force commander of AMISOM from 2009 – 2010. The UN-backed mission comprises some 21,000 troops with more than 5,000 of those from Burundi.

Burundi also contributes more than 1,200 troops to UN peacekeeping missions with the bulk of its contingent serving with MINUSCA in the Central African Republic.

Burundi was one of 25 African countries selected by the US state department to take part in its ACOTA program which trained more than 250,000 troops for participation in peacekeeping operations.

UN DPKO data on Burundi's troop contributions link

UN DPKO data on Burundi’s troop contributions link

There have been no reports of any former peacekeepers among those siding with coup leader Niyombare but it would not be the first time that former UN troops were involved in a coup.

Former battalion commanders with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were all central to the military’s involvement in three successive coups in Fiji in 1987, 2000 and 2006.

Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council says that as a result of its involvement in UN peacekeeping, Burundian troops are far better armed and trained than at any time in the country’s history, and have gained real battle experience. He is warning that if the military splits a conflict could be far worse than any of the country’s previous conflicts.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the UN Security Council condemned the “unrest” in Burundi and those who seek to seize power through “unlawful means.” The council’s statement did not use the word coup.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz