November 12, 2015 / 5:44 PM / 2 years ago

U.N. council asks for options to boost U.N. presence in Burundi

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speaks to the media with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer (not pictured) about the world’s humanitarian crises at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, October 31, 2015.Pierre Albouy

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council on Thursday asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report within 15 days on options for boosting the U.N. presence in Burundi amid growing international concern that violence could spiral into an ethnic conflict.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a French-drafted resolution that also backed contingency planning by the United Nations and the African Union to enable an international response to any further deterioration in the African state.

"We need to look at the whole range of tools that the United Nations has at its disposal, including potentially peacekeeping forces, but also other measures including further political pressure on the parties," British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, council president for November, told reporters.

Key Western powers and the United Nations are discussing the possible deployment of international peacekeepers to Burundi if the violence in the African country escalates, diplomats said on Wednesday.

"Our goal is not to have to get to that point, but our primary objective, of course, is to ensure that Burundi does not descend into mass violence," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told reporters on Thursday.

At least 240 people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled to neighboring states during months of violence that began when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided in April to run for a third term. He won a disputed election in July.

The United Nations, African Union and European Union warned earlier on Thursday that political division in Burundi threatened to create a deep and violent regional crisis and called on both sides to meet for mediated talks.

Burundi ended a 12-year civil war between Hutu rebels and a Tutsi-led army in 2005. It is the same ethnic divide that led to neighboring Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people - mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus - were massacred.

"Because of Burundi's history ..., because of some of the very divisive rhetoric and the sheer number of people who have been killed in recent days, it is clear that contingency planning is needed," Power said.

The Security Council resolution strongly condemned "all public statements, coming from in or outside of the country, that appear aimed at inciting violence or hatred towards different groups in Burundian society."

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang

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