Rwanda breaks silence on Burundi tension, says delayed response was deliberate

WE CHOSE TO GO SLOW: Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo

WE CHOSE TO GO SLOW: Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo

The authorities in Rwanda have finally weighed in on the mounting tensions between the country and Burundi including recent expulsion of a longtime advisor at the Rwandan embassy in Bujumbura.

Speaking the media Thursday, Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said due to the instability in Burundi, her government has chosen to wait until peace and order is restored for the leaders of both countries to sit down and try to resolve their differences.

“As neighbouring countries, it is not surprising that sometimes misunderstandings arise, but we are waiting until the government and leaders in Burundi stabilize their country for us to tackle these issues,” Mushikiwaba told journalists in Kigali.

The minister also noted the dismissal of the Rwandan diplomat was not surprising given the way the Burundian government has been dealing with the turmoil.

Desire Nyaruhirira, was expelled two weeks ago allegedly due to his breach of diplomatic rules and regulations and engaging in activities to fuel the ongoing conflict.

Minister Mushikiwabo however noted most of the reports of the deteriorating relationship between Kigali and Bujumbura are unfounded thus the government’s stance of not responding.

Rwanda’s belated response comes three weeks after the Burundian government officially accused Rwanda of training rebels and aiding the conflict in the country.

“It (Rwanda) is hosting Burundi’s failed coup leader, and helping rebels launch cross-border attacks,” Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe said earlier this month.

Also in July, the Burundian Military revealed it had quelled a rebel attack, killed 31 combatants and captured another 170 in the northwestern part of the country, at that time area residents told the media they had seen about 300-400 armed militants crossing into Burundi from Rwanda.

The Burundian military paraded the captured combatants along with dozens of weapons and ammunition before the media.

Despite all these reports, the Rwandan government has denied having any hand in the conflict that has paralyzed its southern neighbour.

In September, Burundi reportedly arrested and detained about 30 Rwandan citizens who were visiting Bujumbura, after some intense diplomatic negotiations between the two countries 14 Rwandans were released but its unclear whether or not the remaining 16 have been freed.

“It is true there are still more Rwandans being held in Burundi. We don’t want this to go the legal way, we want them to be released through diplomatic efforts, and our ambassadors are working tirelessly on this matter,” Johnston Busingye, Rwanda’s Minister of Justice said in September.

In her remarks Thursday, Minister Mushikiwabo said “the problems in Burundi are complex, that’s why we chose to go slow, because earlier at the beginning of this conflict we knew the conflict was headed in a bad direction, and we tried to keep out it as much as possible hoping for the best outcome.”

She added Rwandans and Burundians are not only neighbours but also relatives culturally and historically.

Rwanda is host to more than 24,000 Burundian refugees, these refugees have been fleeing their homeland since April when the conflict broke out. Majority of the refugees are in the camps but some well-to-do Burundian refugees and politicians are in various Rwandan urban centres particularly in the capital Kigali.

The government in Bujumbura has also accused Rwanda of training some of the refugees in the camps and arming them to destabilize their homeland. And there has been reports of Rwandans being denied entry to Burundi at the Rwanda-Burundi border.

The Rwandan minister reiterated her government will not be responding to the actions and “provocations” of the Burundian government by retaliating on the Burundian refugees in Rwanda.

Mushikiwabo’s assertions (that Rwanda has opted not meddle in Burundian affairs) notwithstanding, in May, the Rwandan head of state, President Paul Kagame irked the authorities in Bujumbura by publicly urging President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi to listen to his people and drop the controversial third term bid.