DAR ES SALAAM – Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Thursday called on Burundians who have fled their country to return home, after talks with President Pierre Nkurunziza who was making his first foreign trip in more than two years.
The visit — kept secret up to the last moment — was aimed at reviving dialogue on Burundi’s enduring political crisis, diplomatic sources said.
Nkurunziza arrived with a heavily-armed escort in the northwest Tanzanian town of Ngara, about 15 kilometres (eight miles) from the Rwandan and Burundian borders.
He was welcomed by Magufuli at a football ground, where he was honoured with a 21-gun salute, live TV coverage on Tanzanian television showed.
Nkurunziza later declared, “Today, Burundi is at peace.”
“We call on our brothers and sisters sheltering in Tanzania to return home, so that we can build our country together.”
Magufuli added, “My Burundian brothers, I urge you to return home to build your country.
“You have just heard your president, prepare from today to return home. I am not expelling you, but we should speak the truth.”
A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting had been initiated by Magufuli.
“It was approved by the East African Community (EAC) in a bid to persuade Nkurunziza to take part in inter-Burundian dialogue without conditions,” the source said, referring to the six-nation association gathering Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
“The international community is expecting a lot from this meeting, because Magufuli is one of the few people to have influence” over Nkurunziza, the source said.
Burundi has been in the grip of a crisis since Nkurunziza’s controversial decision in April 2015 to run for a third term in office.
He won elections that July that were boycotted by the opposition. It branded the vote a violation of the constitution.
Between 500 and 2,000 people have been killed in clashes, according to UN and NGO sources.
More than 400,000 people have fled and dozens of opposition activists have been forced into exile.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 275,000 Burundians have fled to Tanzania, a figure contested by both governments, which maintain that a large number have already returned home.
In other comments, Magufuli said, “There are people who making a profitable business out of refugees. By the way, I have instructed the interior minister to stop granting (Tanzanian) nationality to the refugees. We have to learn to serve our countries.”
“Those who go around preaching that Burundi is not at peace should stop their gospel,” he said.
The last time Nkurunziza left the country was in May 2015 when he went to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for an EAC summit, but rushed home to tackle an attempted coup.