Two former Burundian presidents have appealed to the U.N. Security Council to press the current government to accept an African Union-led peacekeeping force.
Former presidents Domitien Ndayizeye and Jean-Baptiste Bagaza met Thursday with a council delegation, which is on a quick visit to Bujumbura to try to stem the political violence that has killed at least 439 people since April.
"We really need this force," said Ndayizeye, who led the country from 2003 to 2005.
'Stop this bloodletting'
"We need to stop this bloodletting in Burundi which is causing our youth to disappear," Bagaza added.
UNICEF reports that 22 children have been killed by gunfire or grenades since April, and more than 200 have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. In both cases, most are boys.
Bagaza, who ruled the country from 1976 to 1987, urged the council to get "fully involved." Otherwise, he warned, "we risk becoming another Rwanda case."
Burundi's President, Pierre Nkurunziza, is firmly opposed to a peacekeeping force.
The council arrived in Burundi's capital late Thursday afternoon on its second visit in less than a year.
Hundreds of citizens lined the road leading from the airport, waving at and cheering the delegation. Many were pro-government demonstrators.
The delegation is expected to meet with Nkurunziza on Friday. The group also plans to interact with civil society and political party leaders.
Human rights violations
Human rights groups have expressed deepening concern about the situation.
"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, and sections on human rights, justice and political analysis," said Carina Tertsakian, a Burundi expert at Human Rights Watch.
She said the goal of such a mission would be to reduce abuses by both sides and encourage peaceful solutions to the crisis.