New York, US - Despite Burundi's request that the UN mission helping it recover from decades of ethnic war end by mid-2014, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is recommending its renewal for another full year as the country moves towards crucial elections amid political violence and intra-party tensions. PANA in New York reports that the recommendation was contained in Ban's latest report on the mission in Burundi, which was presented to the UN Security Council by the UN Special Representative in the country, Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.
The UN chief stated: 'Our best efforts to consolidate peace in Burundi, as advanced as they are, remain incomplete.'
He noted that political actors, who met from 27 to 29 November to assess the road map adopted last March, had recognized the need to tackle challenges such as the 'climate of distrust' among key political stakeholders and the absence of an agreed process to review the constitution.
He also said that there was the need to address persistent violence among young people affiliated with certain parties, stressing that, 'those reasons, called for sustained political support'.
The secretary-general, in his report recommending a full year's extension of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), noted Burundi's 'substantial progress, overcoming formidable challenges since the end of the civil war'.
Ban, however, warned that such gains are far from irreversible as the country prepares for presidential elections in 2015, which he described as 'a litmus test for long-term stability'.
'Now, more than ever, the Government of Burundi must demonstrate visionary leadership by continuing to promote the spirit of dialogue and consensus enshrined in the 2000 Arusha peace accords, which has helped Burundians to address the structural causes of conflict in their country,' he said.
'Given Burundi's history and social make-up, majority rule and a winner-takes-all mentality could erase such hard-won gains,' he warned.
The UN chief also noted that a UN strategic assessment, conducted from September to December, found that the political scene remains deeply polarized, with the government using its dominance in Parliament to enact laws infringing on political and civil rights.
He said that the development was contributing to a shrinking of political space, while the opposition threatens to take steps to confront the government.
Ban noted President Pierre Nkurunziza's request that BNUB, headed by Mr. Onanga-Anyanga, be drawn down within six months as of 15 February so that Burundi can take fuller ownership of its political process.
'But, the request for the withdrawal poses a difficult dilemma, given the continuing need for a United Nations political presence whose functions cannot be entirely covered by the United Nations country team,' he added.
'The government has suggested the country team, a collection of UN agencies concerned principally with development and humanitarian issues, take over BNUB's role, which is political.
'If the Government persists in its position that a 12-month extension is not acceptable, I will suggest the Council consider two other options.
'A new peacebuilding mission with a more focused mandate could replace BNUB as an interim step to preparing the ground for a transition of functions to the UN country team, or as a last resort, a special envoy could be appointed to facilitate dialogue and broad-based participation in political life and coordinate efforts to ensure an environment conducive to a free and fair poll,' he stated in the report.
Ban also voiced concern at the continued impunity for human rights violations, including sexual violence and rape, urging the authorities 'to apply a strict zero-tolerance policy regarding human rights abuses committed by the security forces'.
He further urged the Peacebuilding Commission to continue its efforts to sustain international support and mobilize resources for Burundi and called on development partners to fill the funding gap for the implementation of Burundi's second poverty reduction strategy.
BNUB was set up in 2006 following a ceasefire between the government and the last remaining rebel force to support peace consolidation, democratic governance, disarmament and reform of the security sector.
It replaced the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB), a peacekeeping mission which at its peak had nearly 6,000 military personnel.
Burundi is often cited as a success story in UN efforts to consolidate peace in countries that have been ravaged by conflict and was the first country, along with Sierra Leone, to be put on the agenda of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) when it was set up in 2006, to prevent post-conflict nations from relapsing into bloodshed.
PANA recalled that hundreds of thousands of people in the country have perished in largely inter-ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis that erupted even before it gained independence from Belgium in 1962.