Burundi opposition wants U.N. to send peacekeepers quickly

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A prominent opposition politician in Burundi called on United Nations on Friday to send a peacekeeping force quickly to help deal with a surge in violence, after the Security Council said it was looking at ways to boost its presence there.

Highlighting growing concerns about unrest, the European Union mission in the African state said it was temporarily making a small reduction in staff and pulling out foreign family members.

Burundi has been mired in a political crisis that has raised fears of slide in ethnic conflict in a region where memories of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda are still raw.

Scores have died in protests and killings and hundreds of thousands have fled since President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term in April – a move the opposition said violated a constitution meant to keep the peace after Burundi’s civil war a decade ago.

Nkurunziza said a court ruling allowed his bid and went on to win a disputed election in July.

The U.N. Security Council asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday to report within 15 days on options to boost the U.N. presence. The United Nations also joined the African Union and the EU in a call for dialogue.
“We are satisfied that the U.N. has unanimously taken such a decision which we hope will also push for dialogue,” Charles Nditije, head of the opposition UPRONA group, told Reuters.
“We deplore, however, that they didn’t decide to deploy peace enforcement forces in the near future,” he said. “We also regret that they didn’t agree on sanctions.”

An earlier version of the French draft resolution threatened sanctions against individuals behind the violence.

Burundi government officials could not be reached for comment.

EU Ambassador Patrick Spirlet told Reuters the “rising risk of violence” had prompted the EU mission in Bujumbura to reduce some staff and send family members away temporarily.
“The delegation will continue functioning normally,” he said, without saying how long it would operate with reduced staff.

The U.S. Embassy sent non-essential staff and staff family members away in May, but on Nov. 3 said they were returning. The United States still warns U.S. citizens against non-essential travel to Burundi.

Burundi’s 12-year civil war, which killed 300,000 people, pitted rebels of the Hutu majority against the Tutsi-led army. The same ethnic divide fuelled the genocide in next door Rwanda, in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered.

Burundi’s crisis has till now largely followed political lines, with a mix of ethnic groups in both camps. But experts say inflammatory language by some officials risks reviving ethnic rifts. The government denies using ethnically divisive language.