The peace process in Burundi has witnessed significant progress in recent months but the country needs help to ensure successful elections next year and to tackle challenges such as human rights abuses, corruption and weak institutions, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report.
"Next year is crucial," Mr. Ban writes in his sixth report to the Security Council on the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), which is helping to promote peace and stability in the country following a brutal civil war.
"Burundi must be assisted to ensure that the gains achieved so far are consolidated before, during and after the 2010 elections, so the country can continue on the path of national reconciliation, democratic and accountable governance, and development," he adds.
In 2005 more than 90 per cent of Burundians approved a new constitution and separate ballots were held for parliamentary seats and for the presidency. Next year voters will choose a president, parliamentary lawmakers and local representatives.
Noting that it is primarily the responsibility of the Government and its national partners to create the "propitious" conditions for the elections, he commends political leaders for adopting an electoral code that enjoys wide consensus and is encouraged by President Pierre Nkurunziza's assurance that the polls will be free, fair and peaceful.
At the same time, he remains concerned about reports on restrictions to the freedom of assembly and expression of opposition parties imposed by local authorities, and by the reports on militant activities of youth groups allegedly associated with certain political parties that are generating fear and suspicion.
"I call on the Government and the political leaders to remain vigilant and to take the necessary actions to put an end to these activities," states Mr. Ban, who also voices deep concern about human rights abuses and "the prevailing climate of impunity," including a number of serious crimes that remain unaddressed.
He also cites the need for the Government to address corruption, improve governance and stem the proliferation of small arms among civilians, noting that professionalizing the police and strengthening the judiciary will be crucial for these efforts.
Among the progress achieved in recent months, Mr. Ban notes that the Forces nationales de libération (FNL), the last rebel movement, disarmed and transformed itself into a political party, completing a major part of the last phase of the peace process.
"I encouraged by the effective demobilization and reinsertion of FNL combatants, as well by the successful disengagement of adults and children associated with the movement," he states, adding that the longer-term socio-economic reintegration of former combatants, returnees and other vulnerable groups remains a challenge.
"Every effort must be made to ensure sustainable reintegration of these groups, in order to prevent them from becoming an added source of insecurity," he adds.
To assist the country in its efforts to restore peace and stability, Mr. Ban recommends a one-year renewal of the mandate of BINUB whose mandate expires on 31 December.
"It is clear that so much has been achieved in Burundi in such a short time, considering where the country has come from," says the Secretary-General. "Yet the situation remains fragile."