GENEVA (Reuters) - Burundi's leaders need to renounce violence and resume their dialogue to prevent the country's political crisis from escalating, the United Nations human rights office said on Friday.
Tensions have been high in the central African state since late April when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office, a move his opponents and Western powers said violated the constitution and which triggered a failed coup in May.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news briefing in Geneva that at least 96 people had been killed since the start of election-related violence in April.
The violence has continued since Nkurunziza was re-elected on July 21.
Shamdasani said at least eight members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party had been shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the past two weeks.
In early August, a human rights activist who openly opposed Nkurunziza's bid for a third term was also shot and seriously wounded.
"Burundi has been slipping closer to the edge ... we call on leaders on all sides to take concrete steps to renounce the use of violence and to resolve differences peacefully," Shamdasani said.
She said there have also been at least 60 cases of people being tortured in police and intelligence services custody, adding that the number of those killed, detained or tortured may be much higher.
A Burundi government spokesman said those involved in torture and killing were acting on their own accord and "will be prosecuted and punished accordingly". He gave no details of any arrests.
The UNHCR says more than 181,000 people have fled to neighboring countries due to the violence.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; writing by George Obulutsa; editing by John Stonestreet)