BURUNDI'S rural areas could be a tourist's delight: streams running through forested hills, valleys planted with tea and bananas, and apparently peaceful interaction between ethnic groups.
In this mountaintop town 30 miles northeast of the capital, Hutus and Tutsis sing at a church and study together at school.
But such scenes mask periodic ethnic killings here and in other parts of the country. About 50,000 to 100,000 people have been killed in ethnic conflict in Burundi since the country's first Hutu president, Melchoir Ndadaye, was assassinated by the Tutsi military last October.
The government and opposition politicians are meeting regularly to try to defuse a crisis. But recent weeks have shown an upsurge of violence, including grenade attacks, the killing of local officials and a UN representative, and ethnic clashes in rural areas.
On Aug. 19, Alvaro De Soto, senior adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said the UN Security Council was considering a number of options to try to prevent a Rwanda-like explosion of more ethnic killings, including sending a lightly armed UN force to Burundi and up to 150 human-rights observers.
But Hutu and Tutsi political leaders say intervention by an armed UN force could make things worse: Both ethnic groups would suspect the force of favoritism, they say.
A Western diplomat in Bujumbura says, however, that leaders of the Hutu majority privately favor a UN force as protection from the Tutsi-dominated military. And a Hutu adviser to parliament credits recent moderation by the Army to a ``fear of foreign troops'' coming to Burundi.
Both Hutu and Tutsi political leaders say they would welcome unarmed UN civilians and others. And government officials say they need judges and lawyers from abroad to help establish a firm judicial system to help break a cycle of revenge killings in Burundi.
Diplomats and political leaders from both ethnic groups also say Burundi's problems are not simply rooted in Hutu-Tutsi rivalry. They blame the political manipulation of ethnicity by politicians and others seeking power.
``Ethnicity is just a pretext'' for Burundi's current troubles, says Vrand Bakevyumusaya, minister of works and professional training.
Diplomats and some politicians describe a shadowy, Mafia-like group of Tutsis with military and business links.
``There are elements that are very active and very negative, but we don't know who they are,'' says Ould Abdallah, the UN secretary-general's special representative to Burundi. ``Maybe they are anarchists; splinter groups.''
A senior Hutu official in the government, who asked to remain anonymous, accuses this Mafia-like group of engineering Mr. Ndadaye's assassination. For most of the time since independence in 1962, Tutsis have held the presidency and the Army; they control the Army currently.
When the Tutsis were in charge of the government, this mafia group profited from corrupt use of government funds and other favors, the official alleges.
Now this group seems determined to provoke a civil war that would give the Tutsi military a chance to step in and again take full control, the official charges.
After the Ndadaye assassination, which according to both sides was carried out by elements in the Army, Hutus killed many Tutsis. The Tutsi Army retaliated by killed many Hutus.
Andre Birabuza, a militant Tutsi political leader, acknowledges that the vocal, well-known Tutsi extremists are not the most extreme. Others ``work in the shadows ... they are less known,'' he says.
Mr. Birabuza says some Tutsi youth gangs have been ``misused'' to carry out violent acts for some politicians, but would be less susceptible to such misuse if they ``were convinced political solutions have been found'' to Burundi's current problems.
``Some extremists are using youth,'' Ambassador Abdallah agrees. He says he has been told youth gangs are being offered beer, beans, and money to ``bring terror to Hutu villages.''
Last week in this area, some Tutsis burned Hutu homes in retaliation for Hutus burning Tutsi homes sometime earlier, says Jean Cishahayo, an Anglican pastor in Muramvya.
There are two problems he says: arms on both sides and a lack of justice. ``The Hutus who killed Tutsis after the death of the president [Ndadaye] were never punished,'' he says. ``Now the Tutsis are beginning to take revenge.''
Hutus in the area say the Tutsi military, accompanied by civilian Tutsis, murdered a large number of Hutu civilians in a local forest in late July. News reports estimated at least 200 dead.
``They killed with guns, spears, large knives, and wooden clubs,'' says one Hutu. The Tutsi military and civilian militia ``have stockpiled many arms in the area,'' he adds. Tutsi politicians accuse the Hutus of arming civilians.
Not all of the violence takes place in rural areas. On Aug. 19, Hutu parlimentarian Sylvestre Mpfayokurera was shot dead at his home in the capital, the fourth government official to be murdered in Burundi last week.