UN warns Burundi to rein in violent security forces

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The Burundian government must rein in its security forces perpetrating violence in the country and engage its opponents in meaningful dialogue to end the nation’s nine-month political crisis or face the threat of international intervention, the UN Security Council has warned the president. 

On its second mission to the violence-wracked central African country in nine months, ambassadors from the 15-member council in New York also told President Pierre Nkurunziza that it would be in his interests to accept some sort of international force to help contain the threat of armed opposition groups. 

The African Union decided last month to deploy 5,000 troops to Burundi to maintain peace and stability even if Bujumbura opposes such a move. The Burundian government has said an African Union force would be treated as an invading army and resisted. 

Any deployment requires UN Security Council ratification and Burundi is expected to be near the top of the agenda at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa next week. International diplomats say the UN Security Council is significantly more united on the need to intervene in Burundi than it was six months ago. 

An uninvited intervention in Burundi would be the first time the bloc has taken such action but diplomats say the fact that it is a real possibility shows how worried regional governments are about the deteriorating situation. 

The UN estimates at least 430 people have been killed since protests against Mr Nkurunziza running for a third term began last April and some 240,000 people have fled the country. 

Mr Nkurunziza’s decision trigged an attempted coup and despite African attorneys-general saying his decision contravened accords that in 2005 ended the country’s 12-year civil war, the president won re-election last July. The process that was widely criticised for being neither free nor fair. 

Since then security forces have violently cracked down on the opposition, with the UN accusing them of rape, torture and indiscriminate violence. 

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief said last week that the UN had also received reports of mass graves. “All the alarm signals, including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis, are flashing red,” Mr Zeid said. 

Opponents to Mr Nkurunziza have also attacked the security forces and on Thursday they announced they had formed an official resistance movement, the Republican Forces of Burundi, or Forebu. They said that the Major General who led the attempted coup, Godefroid Niyombare, would be its leader. 

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, said after the meetings with Mr Nkurunziza and other officials ended late on Friday night that “we did not achieve as much, frankly, as I think we would have liked”. 

“But we never give up, the cause of peace in Burundi is too important to give up," she said. "None of us want the situation in Burundi to deteriorate, we're here because we want to support efforts at dialogue, because we believe as a council that a more substantial international presence here can help, we conveyed those points to the president." 

Mr Nkurunziza told the security council delegation that “Burundi is open to independent investigation provided it is agreed with the government,” according to Karerwa Ndenzako, his deputy spokesman. 

The government is also “committed to dialogue and we look forward to your support in terms of capacity building,” Mr Ndenzako quoted the president as saying. 

However many nations doubt the president’s sincerity with the government declining to attend several rounds of talks mediated by Uganda that were scheduled for earlier this month. 

Two former Burundian presidents, Jean-Baptiste Bagaza and Domitien Ndayizeye, told the visiting UN missions that outside intervention was necessary to restore stability. 

"Otherwise we run the risk of becoming another Rwanda," Mr Bagaza, who was president from 1976 to 1987, was quoted by Reuters as saying. "We already have a heavy death toll, a great deal of destruction to the economy." 

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