BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Members of the U.N. Security Council arrived in Burundi Thursday to try to help end political unrest that sparked deadly violence.
France, the U.S. and Angola are leading the 15-member council delegation that will be in Burundi until Friday.
"We've seen escalating violence, climate of fear and tension before in Burundi. Immediate, inclusive (political) dialogue held outside Burundi vital," Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said on Twitter ahead of the trip.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein in a report last week spoke of gang rapes of women by security forces, torture and signs of ethnic repression.
His office cited growing signs that Tutsis are being targeted in the Hutu-majority country that borders Rwanda, where a 1994 Hutu-led genocide targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek re-election last April touched off street protests that led to a failed coup in May and a rebellion that has left the country on the brink of civil war. Opponents and supporters of Nkurunziza in the capital, Bujumbura, have been targeting each other in gun, rocket and grenade attacks and the violence has spread to the provinces. There has been a wave of extrajudicial killings that human rights activists blame on government security forces.
Vital Nshimirimana, a Burundian human rights activist, told The Associated Press that the U.N. must be prepared to tackle what he said was the root cause of the conflict: the president's decision to seek a third term despite widespread opposition. "Violence will not stop in Burundi as long as President Nkurunziza continues to disregard the country's constitution, which limits him to two terms in office," Nshimirimana said.
Human Rights Watch said the ambassadors "should use their time in Bujumbura to persuade President Pierre Nkurunziza to accept a strong U.N. political mission with a substantial international police force."
The U.N. estimates that more than 230,000 people have fled to neighboring countries since April 2015 and 432 people have been killed.
A confidential report from the U.N. peacekeeping department to the Security Council, obtained last week by AP, said U.N. peacekeeping troops should be deployed to Burundi only as a last resort if violence worsens. The report said the focus now should be on promoting political dialogue and deploying African Union peacekeepers.
Burundi's government has said it would fight an AU force as invaders.
Ssuuna reported from Kigali, Rwanda.