EU orders evacuation in Burundi as fears of mass atrocities grow

The decision follows a resolution passed Thursday by the UN Security Council that condemns the rising violence in the central African nation.

A Burundian soldier guards a deserted street in Bujumbura, Burundi, on Sunday amid growing unrest across the country.

The European Union announced Friday it will begin evacuating staff families and non-essential employees from Burundi, the latest sign that escalating political violence in the Central African country has the international community worried.

"We have decided to evacuate temporarily the families and part of the non-essential staff but the (EU) delegation will continue functioning normally," an EU official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The political crisis sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's constitutionally questionable third-term bid in April has raised fears that Burundi could slide into an ethnic conflict in a region where memories of genocide in next-door neighbor Rwanda remain strong.

Indeed, Rwandan President Paul Kagame evoked such sentiments this week when he accused Burundi's leaders of carrying out "massacres" on their people. He said the violence reminded him of the Rwanda's genocide in 1994.

"They [Burundi] should learn from what happened here," Mr. Kagame said in a speech last Sunday, according to AFP. 

Kagame is not the only one watching Burundi closely. On Thursday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution strongly condemning the increasing violence and human rights violations in the country. It also threatened sanctions.

The Security Council is weighing plans to rush a UN peacekeeeping presence to Burundi, reports AFP. Hours earlier, top UN, EU, and African Union (AU) leaders met at the EU-Africa migration summit in Malta to  “raise the level of concern" that Burundi’s crisis could create a deep and violent crisis.

But Charles Nditije, a prominent opposition leader, told Reuters that while he is glad the UN has started a dialogue toward resolution, he was concerned with its decision to not send troops as of now.

"We deplore, however, that they didn’t decide to deploy peace enforcement forces in the near future,"he said.

For its part, the Burundian government has dismissed talk of genocide, saying that it has the right to go after so-called terrorists. Last week, President Nkurunziza ordered Burundians to surrender illegal arms by Nov. 9, citing the proliferation of weapons and targeted killings.

"There will be no war or genocide," presidential spokesman chief Willy Nyamitwe told AFP. "It is amazing to see that a government that wants to put an end to terrorism is criticized instead of being encouraged."

Burundi was thrown into turmoil over Nkurunziza's plan to seek a third term in office. The country emerged from civil war a decade ago.

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