France seeks UN action on Burundi to prevent ‘another Rwanda’
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France on Monday urged the UN Security Council to adopt a draft resolution aimed at toughening the international response to spiralling violence in Burundi, amid fears of Rwanda-style mass killings.
The measure threatens targeted sanctions against Burundian leaders who foment violence or hamper efforts to end the crisis that followed protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term.
“We are extremely worried by what we are seeing in Burundi at this moment: this increase of political violence and the extremely alarming ethnically-based hate speech,” French Deputy Ambassador Alexis Lamek told reporters.
“If we let tensions escalate the whole country could explode,” Lamek said. “Especially when we hear hate speech coming from highest ranks.”
The draft text calls on the government and all sides to “reject any kind of violence” and strongly condemns the killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and other rights violations in Burundi.
At an emergency council meeting called by France, Burundi’s Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe defended his government and said the “country was calm” except for some pockets of Burundi’s capital Bujumbura where “small groups of criminals are active”.
“Burundi is not burning,” Nyamitwe told the council by video-conference from the capital.
The foreign minister urged the council not to resort to sanctions, calling them “ineffective” and maintained that the government was holding a dialogue with the opposition, as demanded by the UN.
On Monday, two people were killed and a policeman wounded in gun battles in Bujumbura, just days after a UN employee was among nine people killed by armed men in police uniform at a bar in the capital.
Burundi has been rocked by violence since Nkurunziza launched the controversial bid to prolong his term in office in April, with more than 200,000 people fleeing the country.
Police have launched a huge security operation in the capital’s opposition districts searching for weapons after an ultimatum to give up arms expired Saturday.
Many residents of those districts have fled the capital, nearly emptying areas that have seen some of the worst violence in recent months.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called on the council to unite around tough measures to prevent a further slide toward a possible genocide.
“We remember what happened in that region, in neighbouring Rwanda 21 years ago,” Rycroft told reporters. “We must not let history repeat itself.”
It remained unclear though whether Russia and some African countries at the council would support sanctions in Burundi, a conflict that they have described as an internal matter.
The draft resolution calls on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present options within 15 days on reinforcing the UN presence in Burundi amid calls by human rights groups for a UN police force to be deployed.
UN Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, both warned the council that Burundi could be facing imminent catastrophe.
“The country appears to be on the verge of a descent into violence that could escalate into atrocity crimes,” said Dieng. “We should act before it is too late.”
Philippe Bolopion, crisis advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, called on the council to take preventive action, “with a reinforced UN presence in Bujumbura, plans for an international or regional police force in volatile neighbourhoods, and a clear threat of sanctions for those who incite serious crimes of ethnic or political violence”.
At least 240 people have been killed since April, “with bodies dumped on the streets on an almost nightly basis,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the council.
The rights chief cited recent inflammatory remarks by government members suggesting that the crisis “could increasingly take on an ethnic dimension”.
“The individuals responsible – regardless of their rank, position or political affiliation – must be held to account, and all possible influence must be brought to bear to halt what may be an imminent catastrophe,” he said.
Threat of ‘pulverisation’
The country’s Senate president Reverien Ndikuriyo recently threatened to “pulverise” regime opponents who do not lay down arms.
“Today, the police shoot in the legs... but when the day comes that we tell them to go to ‘work,’ do not come crying to us,” he said.
The term “work” was a term used as code in Rwanda to unleash the killings of at least 800,000 mainly Tutsi people by extremist Hutu militias in the 1994 genocide.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame implored Burundi to avoid sliding into ethnic conflict on Sunday. Burundi dismissed Kagame’s remarks as “indecent and unfair”.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)