Burundi’s fall out with Rwanda has escalated to the regional legislative assembly with Burundian MPs boycotting sittings in Kigali over "safety concerns".
Five of Burundi’s nine representatives in the Assembly had in January said they would skip the plenary in the Rwandan capital due to political differences between the two neighbours.
But while staying clear of discussing the sour relations with Bujumbura, President Paul Kagame said his country’s political will for regional integration was “stronger than ever before”.
He was speaking during the opening session of Eala on Monday which started amid conspicuous absence of the Burundian legislators, all of whom are members of the ruling party.
Eala Speaker Daniel Kidega, speaking for the first time on the matter, told reporters in Kigali that he was “not aware if the said MPs are on their way to Kigali or not”.
He said that although his office was aware of the security concerns raised by the legislators, the regional Parliament would strictly adhere to the laid down procedures in conducting its business which includes the issue on quorum.
“The current session is fully constituted because we have a minimum of three members from each partner state to continue with the business,” he said, adding that if the Burundi MPs do not show up at all, the Assembly may consider measures to take for what he said would be considered as absenteeism.
The five Burundi legislators are Ms Emerence Bucumi, Ms Isabelle Ndahayo, Mr Jean Marie Muhirwa, Emmanuel Nengo and Leonce Ndarubagiye.
The Eala 5th Plenary Session is taking place in Kigali from March 5 – 17.
Last month, three of the five MPs accused the EAC of sidelining Burundi, with the Secretariat, its institutions and organs not holding activities in Bujumbura since the start of the political turmoil in April 2015. They then said that they would boycott Eala sittings in Kigali in protest.
However, analysts say the move to skip the Assembly was catalysed by the deteriorating relationship between Bujumbura and Kigali. Burundi accuses Rwanda of backing groups keen on overthrowing President Pierre Nkurunziza. Rwanda has repeatedly denied the claims.
Sources at Eala say the five Burundi MPs had wanted the sessions, currently ongoing in Kigali, be relocated to Arusha, the EAC headquarters.
But a Tanzanian Eala lawmaker, Charles Makongoro Nyerere, said a special committee that had been set up to investigate the claims by the Burundians that their lives could be threatened in Kigali found no evidence to support the assertions.
“There is no evidence of that their security is threatened. And this matter did not come from their government but individual MPs,” he said, adding that Rwandan authorities have promised to provide enough protection for all MPs while they are in Kigali.
In November 2015, Burundi recalled four of its representatives from Eala — Yves Nsabimana, Jeremie Ngendakumana, Martin Nduwimana, and Frederic Ngenzebuhoro — accusing them of siding with those opposed to President Nkurunziza.
The move was however rejected by the Speaker and the Assembly terming saying it contravened the EAC Treaty.
The four are members of the opposition and are reported to live outside Burundi out of fear of their security. They are currently in Kigali attending the Eala sittings.