Around 1,000 people marched through the streets of Burundi’s capital Saturday to protest against a United Nations Security Council decision to send a police contingent to the troubled country.
The demonstration — “organised by the authorities,” according to one Western diplomatic source — passed off peacefully but showed the government’s hostility to the proposed unit of 228 UN police.
Protesters marched to the French embassy, angry that France had drafted the UN resolution to send the controversial police squad.
One demonstrator carried a banner saying that it was France that needed UN peacekeepers, making a reference to a truck attack in the southern French city of Nice that killed 84 people.
French ambassador Gerrit van Rossum, who went out to address the crowd, said there was “a deep misunderstanding” about France’s role at the UN security council. He said there was “no problem” at the demonstration.
The crowd also demonstrated outside the Rwandan embassy, accusing Rwanda of training Burundi rebels.
On Friday, the UN agreed to send the force of 228 police to the capital Bujumbura and throughout Burundi for an initial period of a year.
The UN police force would be tasked with monitoring security and human rights in coordination with African Union rights observers and military experts.
The police force “would help create an environment conducive to political dialogue by averting further deterioration of the security situation as well as human rights and abuses,” the UN resolution said.
Burundi has agreed to allow 100 AU rights observers and 100 AU military experts into the country to monitor the crisis, but fewer than 50 have begun work on the ground.
But the planned police deployment has sparked fury from the authorities, who have said they will accept no more than 50 officers.
Four countries on the 15-member UN council abstained from the vote, which passed with 11 votes in favour.
The abstentions came from China, Egypt, Angola and Venezuela, which cited the need to secure Bujumbura’s consent for the police force.
Burundi’s ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, said it was “unimaginable” that such a resolution could be applied without taking into account the “sacrosanct principle of Burundi’s sovereignty.”
Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April last year to run for a third term, which he went on to win.
More than 500 people have died, many of them in extrajudicial killings blamed on Burundian police, security forces and militias linked to the ruling party, according to the United Nations.
At least 270,000 people have fled the country.
The UN is under pressure to take action in Burundi, where the descent into violence has raised fears of mass atrocities, similar to those that convulsed neighbouring Rwanda in 1994.
Political talks scheduled to open this month in Tanzania collapsed when the government refused to sit down with some opponents in exile accused of plotting a failed coup attempt in May last year.
The government’s refusal to hold serious negotiations is seen as a key stumbling block in diplomatic efforts to end the violence.
The UN council threatened “targeted measures against all actors, inside and outside Burundi, who threaten peace and security” in the country.