December 1, 2015 / 12:03 AM / 4 years ago

U.N. says Burundi on brink of war but no need for peacekeepers yet

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Burundi is on the brink of a war that could have “potentially disastrous effects in an already fragile region” but there is no immediate need to deploy United Nations peacekeepers, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on Monday.

An armed vigilante holds an AK-47 rifle in the center Bujumbura, Burundi, November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled the African state during months of violence that began when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided in April to run for a third term. He won a disputed election in July.

Earlier this month the 15-member Security Council asked Ban to provide options for boosting the U.N. presence in Burundi amid growing international concern that the violence could spiral into an ethnic conflict.

A U.N. political mission in Burundi was shut down at the end of 2014 at the request of the government.

In a letter sent on Monday, Ban outlined three options: a U.N. peacekeeping mission, a special political mission or a support team for his special advisor on Burundi, Jamal Benomar. He recommended the council consider approving the last option.

However, British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the council had already given the green light for such a move. “I don’t think that should be seen as a new option,” he said.

Ban also recommended the council “review the mandate of the United Nations presence as the situation on the ground evolves.”

“Burundi stands on the brink of another armed conflict that could unravel years of painstaking work to consolidate and preserve peace and have potentially disastrous effects in an already fragile region,” he said.

Burundi ended a 12-year civil war between Hutu rebels and a Tutsi-led army in 2005. It is the same ethnic divide that led to neighbouring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people - mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus - were massacred.

The United Nations and the African Union have already started contingency planning for the possible deployment of international peacekeepers in case the violence worsens. Such a move would require authorization by the Security Council.

Ban told the council that a support team for Benomar would work with the parties in Burundi to build a credible political dialogue, strengthen security and stop human rights violations.

“Launching such a dialogue must be the absolute priority while we continue to find ways, with our partners in the region, to stop the deterioration of the security situation and prevent massive violence and a possible full-blown civil war,” he said.

Rycroft said the Security Council is discussing a possible visit to Burundi.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau; Writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sandra Maler

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