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UN Rights Chief Appeals for Calm in Burundi

Suspected fighters are paraded before the media by Burundian police after clashes in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, Dec. 12, 2015.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights is urging the Burundi government and opponents to step back from the brink before the current crisis breaks out into a full-fledged civil war.

The U.N.’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, says he is deeply alarmed by the latest developments in Burundi’s unfolding crisis. The High Commissioner is referring to the bloody events on Friday, when gunmen attacked three military camps in the capital, triggering heavy fighting that killed a reported 87 people.

The high commissioner’s spokeswoman, Cecile Pouilly, says security forces searched houses and arrested hundreds of young men. There are reports the security forces may have executed some of those arrested.

“With this latest series of bloody events, the country seems to have taken a new step toward outright civil war, and tensions are now at bursting point in Bujumbura," said Pouilly.

After years of peace, Burundi took a deadly turn in April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term, which critics consider unconstitutional. The violent protests that erupted have waxed and waned but have lately increased.

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 220,000 Burundians have taken refuge in neighboring countries this year.

Pouilly tells VOA that security in Bujumbura is very difficult and U.N. monitors have not been able to get accurate figures on what happened Friday.

“The government, the authorities say that the number of attackers who were involved in Friday’s bloody events were 150 people and that 79 of them were killed. Some people are saying that the number of civilian casualties could be as high as 200. But, we really have no way of confirming these allegations of these figures," she said.

High Commissioner Zeid is urging all parties to do all they can to stop the violence. He appeals to the government and opponents to engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue.

Thursday, the U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Burundi in an effort to clarify events and prevent the situation from escalating.