U.S. suspends Burundi peacekeeping training over protests

A protester sits in front of a burned barricade during a protest against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 21, 2015. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday it had suspended training of Burundi soldiers for African peacekeeping missions over concerns that political violence in the country would hamper their ability to participate in such operations.

A decision by Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza last month to stand for a third term has triggered violence protests, a failed coup and caused thousands of refugees to flee into neighboring countries.

“The U.S. has temporarily halted peacekeeping training activities such as the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a daily briefing.

“Continued instability and violence in Burundi, and in particular the commission of human rights violations and abuses by security forces, could jeopardize Burundi’s ability to continue to contribute to the AMISOM peacekeeping mission,” she added.

Harf said, however, that Burundi’s military has largely acted “professionally and neutrally” during the protest, and some had lost their lives.

According to the White House, since 2005 through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program, the United States has trained more than 248,000 peacekeepers from 25 countries in Africa before they are deployed for U.N. and African Union peacekeeping operations.

Washington has expended more than $241 million in ACOTA activities since 2009 alone, the White House said.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker