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Burundi: Tough times ahead as UN calls for urgent talks

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for "inclusive and genuine inter-Burundian dialogue." It threatened sanctions, adding that the UN would deploy more peacekeepers in Burundi if need be.

The 15-member Council on Thursday backed the French-drafted resolution aimed at bringing an end to violence and minimizing the possibility of the country plunging into ethnic conflict. The government of Burundi and the opposition have both welcomed the resolution.

UN Diplomats meeting in Malta applauded the resolution. "The council must fully embrace its role of prevention - this is a key word and its duty - and not let the genie of ethnic violence out of the bottle," said French ambassador to the UN François Delattre. British UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft said, "The Council must use all the tools at its disposal," warning that the worst-case scenario was a "possible genocide." The resolution comes amid attempts to curb the migration crisis that is worrying Europe.

Earlier on Thursday, the UN, the African Union and the European Union issued a joint statement in which they said that they were "alarmed" over the growing political violence in the country, which could result in a regional crisis.

The US envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region, Tom Perriello, is already in Uganda to consult with Uganda's president on how to restart talks. Previous attempts at negotiations chaired by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni failed due to a lack of cooperation from by both sides.

Burundi Gewalt und Proteste

Burundi has been mired in violent conflict since its independence

Mixed reactions in Burundi

Some Burundians have welcomed the resolution, but insist that a locally based solution would be more fruitful. "I don't think the resolution could be part of the solution to Burundi, but Burundians themselves could be part of the solution, because this needs serious engagement with the Burundian community themselves. The opposition and the government should come together and (engage in) dialog and solve their issue," said one resident of Bwiza township in the capital, Bujumbura. He added that he expected very little from a possible deployment of UN peacekeepers to Burundi. "There have been many calls about the peacekeeping deployment missions, which I don't think could be a solution to the current crisis, but rather a part of the problem," he said.

His opinion was echoed by a secondary school teacher in Gasenyi, who questioned the ability of UN peacekeepers to get the protagonists to enter into a dialog. "Can they prevent the two forces – government security forces and opponents who took arms to combat the government? I don't think so," he said.

But a female restaurant attendant in Nyakabiga, a neighborhood where protests against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's third term were held and which was allegedly harboring insurgents, told DW that the deployment of UN peacekeepers to Burundi would help curb police agents' violence against citizens. "I think that if they (the UN) could send those peacekeepers, that would be great. Considering killings taking place here in Burundi, they could witness police atrocities here in Burundi. Because if we say that police agents kill people, they don't believe us. They say that we are lying," she lamented. "But if they say there are UN peacekeepers, they will see and realize that we are not liars."

Violence and protests in Burundi

Scenes of police patrols and destruction are common in Burundi

At a council meeting on Monday, Burundi's Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe said the "country was calm" save for the capital Bujumbura, where "small groups of criminals are active."

Politically motivated killings

But human rights activists say more than 200 people have been killed in protests since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term. Rights activists say cases of politically motivated killings and grenade blasts are increasing.

The country's Senate president Reverien Ndikuriyo recently threatened to "pulverize" regime opponents who do not lay down arms. The government last week embarked on a door-to-door disarmament effort resulting in several deaths.

Burundi has experienced decades of sporadic ethnic violence since its independence from Belgium in 1962. The current escalation has increased fears of a possible plunge into civil conflict.

Meanwhile, the European Union mission in Burundi is temporarily making a small reduction in staff and pulling out foreign family members. Similarly, the United States and Belgium have cautioned their citizens against non-essential travel to Burundi.

Apollinaire Niyirora contributed to this article.

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