EU diplomatic mission in Burundi fears violence will escalate, draws down staff

Amid increasing violence, the European Union Mission in Bujumbura, Burundi, has evacuated its nonessential staff and family members.

“The decision has been taken on the basis of a new risk assessment of the situation in Burundi,” Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the European Union External Action Committee, told CNN Friday. She said the evacuation is temporary.

The U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura evacuated its nonessential staff and families earlier this year.

Tensions in the small East African nation, roughly the size of Belgium, have mounted in recent weeks. The international community, United Nations and several high-profile nongovernmental organizations have expressed fear that the country could degenerate into an ethnic conflict.

In an October 29 speech to the nation, Burundian Senate President Reverien Ndikuri, a member of embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ruling party, warned that he could authorize people to go to “work,” utilizing the same word in the Kirundi language that was used to incite neighboring Rwandans into violence before the 1994 genocide.

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday adopted a resolution that expressed deep concern about the humanitarian situation in the country and gave U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 15 days to report on U.N. security options in the country.

Peacekeeping forces are being considered, including the use of MONUSCO forces, which have a presence in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Burundi’s opposition leaders have supported the possibility of a U.N. presence.

Without alluding to the call for an increased U.N. presence, the government of Burundi responded Friday, reiterating its “commitment to peace” and urging “the participation and contribution of Burundians from both inside and outside.”

“We are encouraged that the response (to the U.N. Security Council’s resolution) has been quite positive initially by their (the Burundian government’s) recent statements,” said Human Rights Watch’s Carina Tertsakian. “But on the ground the situation is still very worrying and killings are continuing every day.”

According to the United Nations, 240 people have been killed since Nkurunziza won a highly contested third term presidential bid in July. Since then, nights have been punctured with gunfire and bodies routinely turn up in the streets in the morning, often with their hands tied behind their backs. Journalists and activists have been beaten and killed, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled into neighboring countries.

During Burundi’s 12-year civil war, which ended in 2005, a Hutu majority fought the Tutsi-led army. Around 300,000 people were killed.

But while ethnic tensions worry many international observers, many on the ground say that these are political rather than ethnically founded.

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