France on Monday presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council aimed at toughening the international response to the violence in Burundi, where fears of Rwanda-style mass killings are rife.
The measure threatens targeted sanctions against Burundian leaders who incite attacks or hamper efforts to end the crisis that followed protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term.
“The escalating violence in Burundi has reached a very worrying stage, maybe a tipping point,” French Deputy Ambassador Alexis Lamek told reporters.
“We must face the reality: If we let the tensions escalate without doing anything, the whole country could explode,” he warned.
The draft text, obtained by AFP, 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.
The council could vote on the draft in the coming days.
At an emergency council meeting called by France, Burundi’s Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe 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,” said Nyamitwe, speaking 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 United Nations.
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 at a bar by armed men in police uniform.
– No repeat of history –
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.
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 neighboring 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.
Russian Deputy Ambassador Petr Iliichev said sanctions would not help ease the crisis, adding.
“We should find an approach that contributes to the political process,” he added.
– Imminent catastrophe –
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.
British diplomat Jamal Benomar was appointed as a special envoy to coordinate the response to the crisis in Burundi.
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.
The country’s Senate president Reverien Ndikuriyo recently threatened to “pulverize” 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.
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.