Burundi democracy 'threatened by poll unrest': UN

Geneva (AFP) - UN rights experts on Thursday warned that Burundi could lapse into fresh conflict following the president's move to extend his mandate in upcoming polls which has provoked deadly clashes.

At least six people have died in the central African nation since the ruling CNDD-FDD party at the weekend designated President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate in the next presidential election due at the end of June.

Opposition figures and rights groups say Nkurunziza's bid to stand for a third straight term goes against both the constitution and a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006.

"Over the past days, Burundi has suffered a wave of killings, arbitrary arrests, detention, the closure of media outlets and the targeting of human rights defenders," the experts said in a statement.

They said the ruling party openly condoned the violence, adding that "an electoral process that lacks credibility – not to speak about one that triggers outright violence - is a huge setback for Burundi."

The UN experts said the gains made by Burundi over the past 15 years "will be put in jeopardy if the authorities fail to take measures to prevent further violations.

"In a society, which has witnessed cycles of recurring violence on a massive scale for close to 50 years, and in which victims have seen no redress for the violations suffered, no one can afford another conflict," they warned.

Calling for a thorough probe to ensure that those behind the violence face justice, they asked authorities to guarantee basic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly.

The president, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian from the Hutu majority, has been in power for two terms since 2005.

His supporters say he is eligible to run again, since his first term in office followed his election by parliament -- not directly by the people as the constitution specifies.