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UN Official: Burundi at 'Tipping Point'

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein answers questions during a press conference.

A top United Nations official says Burundi is at the "tipping point" of descending into mass violence and is urging the U.N. Security Council to act.

In a speech late Monday to the Council, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said at least 240 people have been killed in Burundi since anti-government protests began in April, and that "bodies are being dumped on the streets on an almost nightly basis."

Zeid Ra'Ad Al Hussein blamed most of the violence on police, intelligence agents and the ruling party's Imbonerakure militia, though he noted that unidentified government opponents are also killing people.

Al Hussein expressed concern the crisis could take on an ethnic dimension, and urged the Council to "prevent the repetition of past horrors."

An estimated 300,000 people were killed during Burundi's 12-year civil war that ended in 2005. Some 800,000 were killed during the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, when Hutu militants sought to wipe out the Tutsi population.

The U.N. human rights chief asked the Security Council consider options to stop the current violence, including sanctions against those who incite or engage in attacks, and invoking chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the world body to take steps to prevent or stop war.

Thousands of Burundians have fled their homes in the past week, following a presidential ultimatum for people to give up their weapons or be treated as enemies of the state.

The U.S. special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region, Thomas Perriello, is in Burundi on a four-day diplomatic mission. In a statement Tuesday, he said the U.S. is "encouraged by the apparent restraint shown this [past] weekend, after a week of inflammatory rhetoric."

He thanked the military for staying neutral and said both the government and opposition have affirmed the crisis is political rather than ethnic.

Burundi has endured months of turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in April.

Critics said he was violating the two-term limit in the constitution but Nkurunziza was re-elected in July in a disputed poll.