Russia: U.N. Security Council should stay out of Burundi dispute

By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday the United Nations Security Council should not intervene in Burundi's constitutional dispute that has sparked the biggest political crisis in the East African state since an ethnically fuelled civil war ended in 2005. Diplomats said Russia and China on Thursday blocked a French-drafted council statement on the situation in Burundi, where there has been almost a week of street protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, "it's not the business of the Security Council and the U.N. Charter to get involved in constitutional matters of sovereign states." The Burundi constitution and the Arusha peace accord ending ended the civil war limit the president to two terms, but Nkurunziza's supporters say he can run again because his first term, when he was picked by lawmakers, does not count. The draft council statement, seen by Reuters, "stressed the need to hold a peaceful, credible, transparent and inclusive electoral process to sustain the gains of peace at a critical time, in accordance with the spirit of the Arusha Agreement, which led to over a decade of peace in Burundi, and with the rule of law." It also expressed concern about the unrest and escalation of violence since the announcement of Nkurunziza's candidacy for the June 26 presidential vote and condemned the use of lethal weapons in response to the protests. Statements by the 15-member U.N. Security Council have to be agreed to by consensus. The crisis is being closely watched in a region still scarred by the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in neighboring Rwanda, which like Burundi is divided between ethnic Tutsis and Hutus. "If some members of the council, some others, want to discuss with people in Burundi how they should interpret their own constitution, we would have no objection to that," Churkin said. "But the Security Council has nothing to do with constitutions in other countries." The African Union's Peace and Security Council on Wednesday said both sides should await Burundi Constitutional Court's decision on his eligibility. Nkurunziza warned on Friday of tough measures against those staging protests. Hundreds of students from a university shuttered by the government sought refuge outside the U.S. embassy in the capital Bujumbura on Friday. The United Nations says about 26,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo in the last month. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Ted Botha)