Among those due to attend the talks in Arusha are the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi. Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko, whose involvement is seen as crucial to a negotiated solution, will be represented by his deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Large numbers of Hutus from Rwanda and Burundi have sought refuge in Zaire.
The meeting will be attended by the head of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Salim Ahmed Salim, and former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, who is mediating in ongoing Burundi peace talks.
The leaders will be reviewing diplomatic efforts to stem the violence in Burundi which has claimed some 150,000 lives since 1993. The United States, in particular, has been intensifying efforts to halt what the State Department has called "acts of genocide against ethnic groups" in Burundi.
The former US ambassador to Burundi, Robert Krueger, recently wrote in a diplomatic cable that the central African country faces "a greater chance for major conflagration than at any time in the last two years".
The United Nations Security Council has been considering contingency plans if such a conflagration were to ensue. The plans demand the provision of a multi-national intervention force and the establishment of "safe zones" for refugees in neighbouring countries.
The OAU has agreed to intervention if the move has UN support. However, the logistics of assembling up to 25,000 troops under a UN mandate are far from straightforward.
According to diplomatic sources, up to a dozen African countries would be willing to provide troops. However, only Egypt and Tanzania have so far spoken openly of intervention. Diplomats at the UN say that, in the event of an emergency mission, the main element would be made up of Western countries.
"The problem of who would send what is uncertain", says a diplomat in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura. "It now seems clear that the UN can't help. So there are many things to sort out like who would pay and which would be the lead country."
The US, which is backing the contingency plan, has said it would provide help with logistics but would not send troops.Britain, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Canada have also been involved in meetings to develop a contingency plan.
However, France, an influential country in Francophone central Africa, has shown itself unwilling to become involved.It has announced that it is suspending its military cooperation with Burundi and reducing civilian aid programmes because of the spiralling violence.
The UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, has issued repeated calls for a "multinational force" rather than a UN-commanded mission. The failure of the UN to prevent genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994 has forced many to question the ability of the world body to respond to large-scale political and humanitarian crises.Reuse content