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Burundi under threat of targeted UN sanctions as violence escalates

Sanctions against Burundi are being discussed at the UN as violence continues in the capital Bujumbura. France presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council aimed at toughening the international response.

Escalating violence in Burundi has prompted France to present a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council on Monday. The draft aims for targeted sanctions against Burundian leaders who incite attacks or hinder efforts to end the ongoing crisis in the country.

The draft resolution calls on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present options within 15 days on reinforcing the UN presence in the central African country.

The moves at the UN on Monday came as two people were killed and a policeman was wounded in a gun battle in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. Last week a UN employee and eight others were killed at a bar by armed police in uniform.

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French Deputy Ambassador Alexis Lamek told reporters, "The escalating violence in Burundi has reached a very worrying stage, maybe a tipping point." He added "If we let the tensions escalate without doing anything, the whole country could explode."

‘Burundi is not burning'

Burundi's Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe tried to play down the situation. He said the "country is calm" except for a few pockets of areas in the country's capital where "small groups of criminals are active."

He added via video that "Burundi is not burning."

The foreign minister maintained that the elected government was holding a dialogue with the opposition, which the UN previously demanded. He urged the council not to resort to sanctions, calling them "ineffective."

Council undecided

Both Russia and China, who hold veto power on the UN Security Council, said they opposed sanctions against Burundi. Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi told the Associated Press, "We have to realize that sanctions are not the panacea for everything."

However, British Ambassador Mathew Rycroft told reporters, "We look at history and we remember what happened in that region, in neighboring Rwanda 21 years ago, and we must not let history repeat itself."

Rwanda was the scene of genocide in 1994 when 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered by extremist Hutu militias.

Burundi's civil war from 1993 to 2006 left up to 300,000 people dead. Rebels from the majority Hutu community clashed with an army dominated by minority Tutsis.

At least 240 people have been killed since protests began in Burundi in April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a campaign for a third term in office.

smm/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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