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Burundi picks a hill to launch fresh attack on Rwanda

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A hill on the common border between Rwanda and Burundi has become the unlikely focus of the tense relations between the two neighbours in the New Year. TEA GRAPHIC | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By The EastAfrican Team

Posted  Monday, January 9   2017 at  13:31

In Summary

  • The dispute originated from the River Akanyaru — which has been used as a natural border between the two countries — changing course and riverbed over the years, and now the hill is on the Rwandan side.
  • The hill only became a point of dispute between the two countries after disagreements over President Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term which was met with resistance.

A hill on the common border between Rwanda and Burundi has become the unlikely focus of the tense relations between the two neighbours in the New Year.

Both countries have since 2007 been claiming the ridge located between the southern district of Gisagara in Rwanda and the northern Burundian province of Ngozi. The hill is subject of determination by a joint border demarcation commission.

This however, did not stop Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza from asserting in his New Year speech that the hill, known as Sabanegwa in Rwanda and Sabanerwa in Burundi, is part of Bujumbura’s territory.

“Sabanerwa hill has never belonged to Rwanda. It has belonged to Burundi since time immemorial. I grew up in that area and I know this very well. But we are waiting for the report from those handling the dispute,” said the president.

The dispute originated from the River Akanyaru — which has been used as a natural border between the two countries — changing course and riverbed over the years, and now the hill is on the Rwandan side.

The hill, known as Sabanegwa in Rwanda and Sabanerwa in Burundi, is located on the common border of the two countries. PHOTO | COURTESY
The hill, known as Sabanegwa in Rwanda and Sabanerwa in Burundi, is located on the common border of the two countries. PHOTO | COURTESY

Last October, Burundian officials alleged that Rwandan soldiers in their dozens had pitched camp on the disputed hill and demolished the house of the only Burundian family inhabiting the hill, describing it as an act of provocation.

However, Rwandan military and defence spokesperson Lt-Col Rene Ngendahimana denied the reports.

The hill only became a point of dispute between the two countries after disagreements over President Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term which was met with resistance.

Cut off completely

Burundi accused Rwanda of backing armed groups seeking to oust President Nkurunziza.

In his New Year remarks, President Nkurunziza said that his country’s relations with certain countries like Rwanda and Belgium were not good in 2016, because of their involvement in his country.

He also said that relations between his country and Rwanda continue to exist albeit amid difficulties, but vowed to cut them completely if Rwanda does not apologise for its alleged actions in Burundi since 2015.

President Nkurunziza said that Bujumbura has never provoked Rwanda, but Kigali got involved in acts of destabilising his country.

Burundian authorities have been accusing Rwanda of backing armed groups fighting the government in Bujumbura, though Rwanda dismisses these charges.

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