UNITED NATIONS—Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Wednesday that Burundi is on the brink of a civil war that could engulf the region.
Burundi has been in turmoil since the April announcement that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office, which he won in a disputed election in July. More than 300 people have been killed, about 215,000 others have fled Burundi since April, and violence has escalated.
The U.N. chief expressed alarm at the “chilling” escalation in violence between government forces and armed fighters.
At least 87 people, including eight security men, died Friday when an unidentified group of more than 150 people attacked three military facilities. Rights groups say this was the worst violence since the crisis over presidential term limits began with street protests that boiled over into the attempted military coup in May.
Ban told a news conference his special adviser, Jamal Benomar, will travel to the region before the end of the week to press the African Union, regional groups, neighboring countries and Burundi’s government to urgently start a political dialogue involving all parties.
“We must do all we can to prevent mass violence and act decisively should it erupt,” he said.
Ban said the U.N. may have to ramp up its presence and activities depending on the situation.
He recommended that Benomar’s mission be beefed up, which is already happening. He also outlined two other options to the U.N. Security Council—a political mission and a peacekeeping force.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power called the situation in Burundi “horrific” and stressed that there is currently no dialogue among the parties on the ground. She warned of the risk that the conflict will become “more of an ethnic conflict than a political one.”
Power said Ban will discuss the crisis with the Security Council later Tuesday. Many council members are eager to see the U.N. speed up its contingency planning, she said.