Nairobi (AFP) - Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial election to a third term in 2015 triggered a political crisis, hinted Friday he might seek a fourth term in office.
"As we are in a state governed by law and if the people say they approve running without violating the law, if the people request it, we won't betray the confidence of the country, we won't betray the confidence of the people," Nkurunziza said at a meeting in the southeastern town of Rutana where he took questions from the public.
He suggested a possible change to Burundi's constitution, which stipulates that the president is elected by universal suffrage to a five-year term and may be re-elected once.
When he stood for re-election in 2015, Nkurunziza argued that as his first election in 2005 wasn't by direct vote but by the parliament under a transition mechanism from the civil war that it didn't count under the constitution.
Nkurunziza's third-term run and victory plunged the central African nation into turmoil, with more than 500 killed in ensuing unrest. At least 300,000 people have fled the country.
A September report by UN rights experts recounted spine-chilling cases of torture and horrific sexual violence, mass arrests and disappearances and warned that "the crime of genocide also looms large."
Burundi has a long history of violence between its Hutu and Tutsi communities, which led to the 12-year civil war that ended in 2006.
Nkurunziza acknowledged that he promised upon his re-election in 2015 not to stand for office in 2020, but said it was made "given the situation at the moment".
Nkurunziza also threatened to withdraw Burundi's 5,400 troops from the African Union peacekeeping force stationed in Somalia next month unless they are paid.
The European Union has been financing the AU mission in Somalia to back Somalia's internationally-backed administration in fighting the Shabaab jihadist militia, but according to analysts, Brussels doesn't want to pay the money to the Burundi government directly as it fears the funds could be diverted.
The Burundi troops, which form the second-largest contingent, haven't been paid in 11 months according to the government.