Burundi Risks Return to Violence as Election Looms, UN Says

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Burundi violence
A relative grieves next to a family portrait and a victim of the unrest in Burundi, on July 2, 2015. Photograph: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Burundi risks sliding back into violence a decade after a civil war ended because of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s insistence on seeking a third term in office, United Nations officials said.

The East African nation is scheduled to hold presidential elections on July 15 after three months of unrest triggered by Nkurunziza’s decision to run for office left at least 77 people dead. A vote for lawmakers last month was conducted in an environment that UN observers said was “not conducive for free, credible and inclusive” elections.

Nkurunziza’s opponents say the bid to extend his tenure violates a two-term limit set out in peace agreements that brought an end to 12 years of conflict in 2005. More than 100,000 people have fled to neighboring countries in the past three months.

“The grave danger the country faces should not be underestimated, given the increasing polarization and the apparent choice of Burundian leaders to put personal interest before those of the country,” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun said in comments published on the UN’s website.

The unrest in Burundi has the potential to destabilize the Great Lakes region that includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s top copper and tin producer, and Rwanda, where the economy is still recovering from a genocide in 1994.

East African leaders who met in Tanzania on July 6 urged Nkurunziza to delay the elections and appointed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled his country for three decades, to try to mediate an end to the crisis.

Burundi’s presidency has “taken note” of the appeal by regional leaders and has instructed the “competent technical services” to implement the recommendation, according to a statement published on its website on Thursday. Calls to Nkurunziza’s spokesman, Willy Nyamitwe, didn’t connect when Bloomberg sought comment on Friday.

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