By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations warned on Thursday that Burundi leaders who have manipulated young people to stoke violence could face international prosecution if human rights abuses are committed.
Planned constitutional amendments that could allow President Pierre Nkurunziza a third term and change power-sharing arrangements have stirred the worst political crisis in the east African country since a 12-year civil war ended in 2005.
"In light of Burundi's past, we trust that the government of Burundi will thoroughly and promptly address the ongoing political violence and restrictions to human rights," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's.
"Political violence has the potential to spark fear in the population and trigger large-scale violence," he said.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern at increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in Burundi, following a series of violent acts by the ruling party's youth wing and police.
"We are stressing that if no action is taken and serious human rights violations occur, those responsible for manipulating the youth affiliated to political parties and instigating violence would be liable for international prosecution," Dujarric told reporters.
He said Ban has recently discussed the crisis with Nkurunziza and other political leaders in the region. Burundi is due to hold elections next year.
In a statement on Thursday the U.N. Security Council "condemned any recourse to violence, and expressed their concern for the reported acts of intimidation, harassment and violence committed by youth groups in Burundi."
The 15-member council expressed its concern for the political tensions and the continued restrictions on the press and civil liberties.
Burundi's political stand-off has raised the risk of another explosion in a volatile region already grappling with unrest in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power visited Burundi on Tuesday and urged Nkurunziza to drop his planned constitutional changes that could upset a delicate ethnic power balance, warning that the country risked a return to the "dark days" of civil war.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)