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UN moves to save Burundi from 'possible genocide'

13 November 2015, 18:58

New York - The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Thursday that could pave the way for peacekeepers to be deployed to Burundi after months of violence raised fears of Rwanda-style mass killings.

The French-drafted measure strongly condemned the wave of killings, torture, arrests and other rights violations in Burundi and called for urgent talks between the government and the opposition to end the crisis.

The resolution requested that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon present options to the council within 15 days on "the future presence of the United Nations in Burundi" to help end the crisis.

UN officials are drawing up several plans including rushing UN peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Burundi, or deploying a regional force under the African Union, if the violence spirals out of control.

"The Security Council must fully embrace its role of prevention... and not let the genie of ethnic violence out of the bottle," French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters.

Burundi descended into violence after President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a controversial bid to prolong his term in office in April.

At least 240 people have been killed and more than 200 000 Burundians have fled the country.

International alarm has been mounting after repeated appeals to Nkurunziza to enter into a dialogue with the opposition fell on deaf ears.

A wave of hate speech fueling attacks has drawn comparisons with Rwanda where tensions between the same ethnic mix of Hutu and Tutsis exploded in 1994 and led to a genocide.

Avoiding genocide

"We know that in the worst case what we are talking about is a possible genocide and we know that we need to do everything that we possibly can to prevent that," said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.

Rycroft, whose country chairs the Security Council this month, cited sanctions, a peacekeeping force and political pressure as some of the "tools" available to prevent mass atrocities.

The council warned in the resolution that it was ready to consider "appropriate measures," but a specific reference to "targeted sanctions" against Burundian leaders who incite attacks was removed in the final draft.

The changes were made after Russia and some African countries argued that sanctions would not be helpful to encouraging a settlement.

The United Nations, European Union and African Union separately called for a meeting between Burundi's government and the opposition to be held outside the country, in Uganda or Ethiopia.

"No effort can be spared to achieve an end to the violence and to foster a political solution," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, African Union chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

Burundi's civil war from 1993 to 2006 left some 300 000 people dead as rebels from the majority Hutu people clashed with an army dominated by the minority Tutsis.

Diplomats have raised concerns about Rwanda becoming embroiled in the conflict after President Paul Kagame accused Burundi's leaders of carrying out "massacres" on their people.

UN envoy Jamal Benomar was appointed this week to coordinate efforts with the African Union to pull Burundi back from the brink.

The deployment of a UN force in Burundi would require the approval of Bujumbura authorities or a decision from the Security Council under a chapter 7 resolution, which authorizes the use of force.

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