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Uganda rules out sending troops to Burundi

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a third term has triggered street protests.

A group of Burundian refugees waits for a soap and blanket distribution at Gashora on Bugesera in 10 April, 2015. Picture: AFP.

NEW YORK - Uganda, which has sent its troops to address regional instability in South Sudan and Somalia, is not considering putting any of its soldiers on the ground in Burundi where political unrest spurred an attempted coup on 13 May.

"There are not plans for military intervention in Burundi," Ruhakana Rugunda, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid to run for a third term has triggered street protests. Opponents say such a move is unconstitutional and undermines a peace deal that ended civil war in 2005.

"Events in Burundi are unfortunate," said Rugunda, who was making a stopover in New York before heading to Washington to meet US government officials and Ugandans living in the area.

Rugunda said nations in the five-nation East African Community, which condemned the attempted coup in one of its member states, remain concerned about events on the ground in Burundi.

"The region is not taking over the responsibility but (is) working with Burundi," he said.

Ugandan troops remain in the country's northern neighbor, South Sudan, although Rugunda says the two governments are constantly assessing when they can be brought home.

Uganda sent troops to South Sudan soon after clashes broke out in Juba, the capital, and spread to major oil producing regions in December 2013. Uganda has been credited with giving South Sudan's military an edge over rebels loyal to President Salva Kiir's former deputy, Riek Machar.

"The aim of Uganda is to be there not for a long time, and to enable the people of South Sudan to stabilise and handle the situation themselves once again. As soon as the people are able to handle the situation themselves, then the troops of Uganda will come back home," Rugunda said.

In terms of regional security, Rugunda said his country's military has built up effective capacity to deal with threats to civilian targets from religious extremists such as the Islamist militants who attacked Keny's Garissa University in April.

"Uganda does not need foreign troops to deal with this problem.... Uganda has developed adequate capacity to deal with the problem in Uganda," said Rugunda, who served as health minister before being appointed prime minister in September.

Turning to domestic politics, where presidential elections are due next year, Rugunda said the government has no intention of boosting spending before the vote.

Increased spending is a concern given inflation is already expected to rise as growth rates increase and the currency has depreciated, prompting the central bank to tighten monetary policy on 8 April.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in power for nearly three decades, has not said if he intends to stand again but is widely expected to seek another term.

Opposition politicians have threatened to boycott the election unless an independent electoral commission is appointed.

Rugunda said the government also wanted an independent commission, but there were differences over the methodologies of appointing such a group.

"The government is ready to take the position of what the parliament of Uganda decides on the matter," he said.