Around 1,000 people have marched through the streets of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, to protest against a UN decision to send a police contingent to monitor the security and human rights situation in the country.
Saturday’s demonstration came a day after the UN Security Council agreed to deploy up to 228 police personnel to Bujumbura, and throughout Burundi, for an initial period of a year.
More than 450 people have been killed since President Pierre Nkurunziza pursued and won a third term last year, a move his opponents say violated the constitution and a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005.
Tit-for-tat violence by rival sides has left both government officials and members of the opposition dead, with more than a quarter of a million people fleeing the violence.
French embassy march
Led by Freddy Mbonimpa, the mayor of Bujumbura, the protesters marched peacefully on Saturday to the French embassy, angry at France’s drafting of the UN resolution to send the police squad.
One demonstrator carried a banner saying that it was France that needed UN peacekeepers, making a reference to a lorry attack in the southern French city of Nice that killed 84 people.
French ambassador Gerrit van Rossum, who went out to address the crowd, said there was “a deep misunderstanding” about France’s role at the UN security council.
He said there was “no problem” at the demonstration.
The crowd also protested outside the Rwandan embassy, accusing the neighbouring country of training Burundi rebels.
Nkurunziza’s government has previously said it would only accept up to 50 unarmed UN police and that its sovereignty must be fully respected.
The UN needs approval from Burundi’s government to send the police force.
Four of the 15 council members abstained from Friday’s vote.
“Given an increase in violence and tension the Security Council must have eyes and ears on the ground to predict and ensure that the worst does not occur in Burundi,” said Francois Delattre, the French UN ambassador.
The violence has caused alarm in a region where memories of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide are still vivid. Like Rwanda, Burundi has an ethnic Hutu majority and a Tutsi minority.
So far, the violence has largely followed political rather than ethnic lines. But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last month he feared increased violence and incitement could turn ethnic in nature.
“This time we are not waiting for the worst to occur before taking action,” Siti Hajjar Adnin, Malaysia’s deputy ambassador, told the council.
However, Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, said Friday’s resolution was not strong enough and that the UN police would simply be observers to Burundi’s problems.
She warned that the situation was “all but certain to deteriorate”.
“It is not at all clear to me that a council that says repeatedly that it has learned the lesson of Rwanda has in fact done so,” Power said.
“Police are not being deployed to protect civilians, even though civilians are in dire need of protection. That should embarrass us.”
Al Jazeera’s Daniel Lak, reporting from the UN headquarters, in New York, said: “The ability of 228 police officers who are basically monitoring human rights and helping build capacity and reporting back to headquarters – they’re not really going to be able to do much to stop violence. But it is a symbolic move by the Security Council.
“They’ll be telling the world what’s going on there, and that’s the key – the international community is back in Burundi.”
Council veto power China, along with Angola, Egypt and Venezuela, abstained from the vote.
“On the question of sending United Nations police to Burundi, it is necessary to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Burundi,” Liu Jieyi, China’s UN ambassador, told the council.
He said the resolution did not reference these principles, which is why China abstained.
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