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U.N. warns peacekeepers ill-equipped if Burundi violence spirals

By Reuters | Jan 14th 2016 | 2 min read

Sending United Nations peacekeepers to Burundi if violence worsens would be a "last resort" because the world body was not equipped to deal with an intense ethnic conflict, said a U.N. memo seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

In the memo to the U.N. Security Council, peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the U.N. was limited in its ability to combat significant violence in the event no countries stepped up to protect civilians and there was no political process underway.

Diplomats said in November that the United Nations was considering various deployments of international troops to Burundi as part of its contingency planning. Ladsous' memo formally outlines those options. The Security Council would need to authorize any deployment of U.N. peacekeepers.

"Current planning considers that any United Nations uniformed deployment would be a measure of last resort, where political dialogue and preventative deployments have failed to avert widespread conflict and where no first-responder-nation or coalition-of-the-willing has stepped forward," the memo said.

"But a truly worst-case scenario will result in a scale of violence beyond the United Nations capacity to protect," it said.

Violence has worsened since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, a move opponents said was illegal, and won a disputed election in July. At least 400 people have been killed and 200,000 have fled.

Western powers and African states fear the crisis that has so far largely followed political allegiances could spiral into a renewed ethnic conflict. Burundi's 12 year civil war, which ended in 2005, pitted an army led by the Tutsi minority against rebel groups of the Hutu majority.

The Ladsous memo outlines three possible contingency plans for deployment of U.N. troops: sending a brigade of up to four battalions and two police units from the peacekeeping mission in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo; a deployment up to 10,000 troops; or a mix of those two options.

The African Union said in December it was ready to send 5,000 peacekeepers to protect civilians in Burundi, but Nkurunziza has said that Burundians would fight against any peacekeepers.

Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch deputy director for global advocacy, said the memo highlighted a need to focus more "preventative and creative" action to reduce the risk of widespread violence, such as the deployment of a U.N. political mission with a police component.

"We can't blame the U.N. for openly admitting that blue helmets won't stop mass violence if it breaks out, because it's the truth," Bolopion said.

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