Burundi is on the brink of civil war and will need regional mediation to establish a peace process between the government and opposition to prevent further bloodshed, a US envoy said.
Thomas Perriello, the US special envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, said on Thursday that Burundi was "facing a real possibility of civil war," though there is still "a window, no matter how small, to get a peace process going".
"The most urgent thing is a regionally mediated dialogue that will deal with the crisis itself," he said.
But regional efforts to cool Burundi's crisis have stumbled, despite calls by the African Union and East African states for dialogue.
Perriello said the international community has kept a close watch on Burundi and the extension of sanctions and the preparation of a peacekeeping force are among the options.
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"We've learned way too painfully from the past that you don't want to wait until after a genocide has started to be doing things to prevent it from happening," Perriello said.
The peace process, led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and backed by the US and others, has so far failed to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.
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"We certainly feel that President Museveni holds the ball on this right now, and therefore some of the consequences if the talks don't get started," Perriello said.
Critics have questioned the suitability of Museveni, who is currently running to extend his 30-year tenure as president for another five years.
Last month, the US imposed sanctions on four current and former Burundi officials, citing reports of targeted killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture.
Three killed in failed attack
Meanwhile, police in Burundi said on Friday that they shot dead three attackers and arrested three others when they foiled an attempt to ambush and assassinate a top police officer in the capital Bujumbura.
Police chief Domitien Niyonkuru said the attackers were wearing police uniforms, while weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, were recovered.
Niyonkuru said the foiled attack had targeted a car belonging to Christophe Manirambona, the head of the police bureau responsible for special units.
"Fortunately he was not in his car and those who were inside are safe," Niyonkuru was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
Burundi, which emerged from a 12-year civil war a decade ago, began spiralling into chaos in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza's announcement that he would seek a third term sparked months of protests in the capital Bujumbura and a failed coup.
Civil society groups say more than 240 people have been killed since then.
Nkurunziza won a disputed election in July.
Source: Al Jazeera