24 May - Many Burundians have cast their ballots today in elections, the top United Nations envoy to the tiny African Great Lakes nation said today as he praised the peaceful staging of the polls so far.

Today's district polls are part of five stages of elections that will continue until September, with a presidential election to be held in June and parliamentary polls to be held in July.

More than 3.5 million people registered to vote in the polls, exceeding expectations, with 17 presidential candidates – 15 aligned with parties and two independents – taking part.

“It's a confirmation of Burundi's emergence from its painful and violent past,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Executive Representative Charles Petrie told UN Radio today.

Any hiccups in the polls have been dealt with swiftly, he said, stressing that “it's been a very successful election so far.”

The election cycle is being conducted and managed by Burundians, with the UN playing a supportive role, the official noted.

Burundi was torn by ethnic conflict between majority Hutus and minority Tutsi, much like its northern neighbour Rwanda, site of the 1994 genocide, for nearly five decades after it became independent from Belgium in 1962.

The polls, Mr. Petrie said today, can serve as an example for the rest of the world that a country emerging from a painful past in a turmoil-plagued region can hold successful, peaceful elections.

Earlier this month, he told the Security Council that the elections mark a “historic moment for Burundi and the region, marking the end of its transition.”

In 2005, Burundi held elections leading to the installation of a democratically-elected Government.

“A country until recently embroiled in internal violence is now hopefully on the verge of demonstrating how one democratically-elected government cedes place to another,” the Executive Representative said, stressing the need for security and warning against violence and intimidation.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa/ Modernghana.com