9 June - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today congratulated the people of Burundi for their achievements in consolidating peace as the tiny African nation rebuilds from decades of ethnic strife.

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.

“You have been determined to move beyond the turbulence of recent decades, and the results are clear,” Mr. Ban said upon arriving in the capital, Bujumbura, citing the example of the recent round of elections.

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

The top United Nations envoy in Burundi, Charles Petrie, praised the peaceful staging of the first round of elections, welcoming the high turnout.

“It is imperative that these elections be a success,” Mr. Ban told diplomats in Bujumbura, noting that “Burundi has an opportunity to become a success story and a model for the continent.”

He called on the international community to encourage a “spirit of compromise” should there be disputes over poll results and to continue supporting the country's efforts to solidify the gains it has made so far.

Acknowledging that some political parties may boycott the presidential elections scheduled for later this month, Mr. Ban underlined in an address to Parliament members the need for an inclusive process and of accepting the democratic will of the people.

“Burundi is at a crossroads,” he told the audience, which also included Government officials and representatives of religious groups.

Recovery, reconciliation, reform, economic development and ending impunity are among the challenges the country faces, Mr. Ban said. “The population yearns for these vital peace dividends.”

The progress made in the country – which is on the UN Peacebuilding Commission's agenda – is “nationally led, driven by a genuine desire for a definitive break with a turbulent past and for peace in what has been an unstable region,” he said, but emphasized that progress also rests largely on its strong partnership with the UN and others.

The Secretary-General, who arrived in Burundi from South Africa, also noted today that “this is a great moment for Africa,” which is both hosting the soccer World Cup and is home to more than one dozen countries celebrating half a century of independence. Burundi will mark the 50th anniversary of its independence in 2012.

While in the country, he will hold talks with President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Mr. Ban also visited a battalion serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

“Your contribution shows Burundi's commitment to international peace and security,” he told the troops, paying tribute to their efforts to improve security conditions, allowing the UN to deliver urgently needed relief supplies.

Somali remains the scene of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), some 575,000 refugees and nearly 3 million people dependent on aid, out of a total population of nearly 8 million.

This is the Secretary-General's second trip to Africa this month, and it will also take him to Cameroon, Benin and Sierra Leone.

Last week, he visited Malawi and Uganda, and later in June he will travel to Gabon, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where a UN peacekeeping mission – known as MONUC – has been in operation for 11 years.

Last month, the Security Council agreed to transform the operation into a stabilization mission in the coming weeks, authorizing the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel by 30 June from areas where security has improved enough to allow their removal.