The U.N. Security Council has asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present options for deploying U.N. police to Burundi to help monitor the security situation following nearly a year of politically linked violence.
In a unanimous vote late Friday, council members adopted a resolution requesting that Ban consult with the government of Burundi, and within 15 days offer the council possibilities for the deployment.
"This resolution is a first step toward a strengthened U.N. presence in Burundi to help ensure the respect for human rights and alert the international community on the reality of the situation on the ground," said French Ambassador François Delattre, whose delegation drafted the resolution.
Russian Deputy Ambassador Petr Iliichev said this week he did not think the number of U.N. police would be more than 100; they would be lightly armed, he predicted, if armed at all.
But Burundi's U.N. envoy said before the vote that he envisioned an international police presence of only about 20 or 30 people.
"I cannot tell you the number now, but it will be a small team of police, experts, to assist Burundi in the security sector," Albert Shingiro said.
Number of observers increased
The resolution also welcomes Burundi's decision to increase to 200 the number of African Union human rights observers and military experts deployed across the country, which has seen an increase in disappearances and acts of torture since its political crisis erupted nearly a year ago. Currently, there are 30 human rights observers and 15 military observers.
The council also expressed its "intention to consider measures against all actors, inside and outside Burundi," who contribute to violence and prevent a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Burundi has accused Rwanda of forcibly recruiting and training Burundian refugees in a Rwandan refugee camp to return home to destabilize the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza.
A U.N. panel of experts backed up the allegations in a January report.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council has made two trips to Burundi in the past year to try to quell the violence.
U.N. chief Ban also traveled there in late February. During his visit, Nkurunziza announced he would ease his crackdown on media, cancel arrest warrants and release some 1,200 political detainees as a goodwill gesture. But U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador David Pressman said progress on these fronts has been "woefully insufficient."
"There have been plenty of press releases, but not enough prisoner releases," Pressman told the council. "We have been promised that free media would be allowed to operate, but only two out of five banned outlets are today operating."
Ban's special adviser on Burundi, Jamal Benomar, is scheduled to return to the country next week to meet with stakeholders, a U.N. spokesman said Friday.
Violence erupted in April 2015 after Nkurunziza sought what many viewed as an unconstitutional third term. Since then, more than 400 people have been killed and 250,000 have fled the country.
The United Nations has urged the government and opposition to engage in inclusive, substantive dialogue to resolve the crisis, amid fears the country could slip into another ethnically based civil war, as happened from 1993 to 2005.