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Unease in Kigali over Kikwete’s call for talks with FDLR

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FDLR soldiers in 2009. The rebels remain a security headache for Rwanda. Photo/FILE

FDLR soldiers in 2009. The rebels remain a security headache for Rwanda. Photo/FILE 

By GAAKI KIGAMBO Special Correspondent

Posted  Saturday, June 8  2013 at  09:53

In Summary

  • The FDLR is a sensitive issue in Kigali because of its role in the 1994 genocide as well as the continual security threats it poses to Rwanda.
  • Although the inspiration for President Kikwete’s remarks remains unclear, regional observers have begun linking them to events surrounding the arrest of Gen Stanislas Nzeyimana aka Bigaruka Izabayo, a top FDLR commander.
  • As the story is told, Gen Nzeyimana went to Tanzania apparently on the invitation of elements within Tanzania’s military for consultations regarding the deployment of the Tanzanian component of the would-be intervention brigade.
  • Kigali has insisted it won’t talk to any entity that still harbours genocide ideologies and plans to carry out another genocide.
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In April, about the time all this happened, Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, Rwanda’s military and defence spokesman, would neither confirm nor deny to The EastAfrican whether Gen Nzeyimana was in Rwandan custody. He, however, hailed his arrest as a “great step” in fighting terror in the region.

Alain Mukuralinda, spokesperson for the Rwandan National Public Prosecution Authority, told The EastAfrican about the same time that Gen Nzeyimana had been arrested and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that sits in Arusha, Tanzania.

Interestingly, though, neither the ICTR nor its successor, the International Residual Mechanism, has pending charges against Gen Nzeyimana. Meanwhile, Tanzanian authorities have remained silent over the whereabouts of Gen Nzeyimana.

Kigali has insisted it won’t talk to any entity that still harbours genocide ideologies and plans to carry out another genocide. Many people in Kigali have dismissed President Kikwete as an apologist for genocidaires like FDLR and demanded a retraction.

Tanzania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Bernard Membe said in parliament last week that the remarks made by President Kikwete were in good faith and did not need an apology.

“Rwanda has issued a statement opposing the advice by President Kikwete that this was the right time to hold peace talks with the country’s rebels, most of whom are in DRC forests and against whom the government has unsuccessfully fought for nearly 17 years,” he said.

“President Kikwete will not apologise because his statement was based on facts. We ask Rwanda to take this advice. Our president cannot apologise for the truth.”

In turn, Tanzania has not only dismissed such suggestions, but a curious post by a “concerned citizen” on the Tanzanian government’s official blog, lambasted Rwanda for behaving “like a spoiled child — untouchable and overly sensitive to everything even the slightest suggestion of censure.

“Rwanda has a tendency of not taking kindly any form of criticism whether from within or without. And its leadership comes across as snobbish and delusional. May be the Western countries’ plaudits about its so-called success story have finally got to the heads of Rwandan leaders so much that they think they know it all,” read the post.

Interestingly, the blog post, which went up on the evening of May 31, had been deleted by the following day. It is not clear why Tanzania’s Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports, which hosts the blog, allowed the post in the first place.

Although both Presidents Kikwete and Kagame were in Japan at the beginning of the month to attend the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, a week after the Tanzanian leader made his remarks, Ugandan diplomats dismissed reports that President Museveni had been roped in to defuse tensions.

James Mugume, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The EastAfrican there was no such mediation on the cards.

“I was in that meeting [in Addis Ababa] and we were talking about the importance of dialogue. President Kikwete did not say what you media people claimed he said, so I really don’t see why there should be mediation,” Mr Mugume said.

Analyst said the current spat amplifies the risks attendant on the coming deployment of a UN combat force in eastern DR Congo, to which Tanzania has contributed troops along with South Africa and Malawi.

As a matter of fact, during discussions on the Concept of Operations for the Neutral International Force, which eventually morphed into the UN Intervention Brigade, Rwanda insisted the first target of attack had to be the FDLR.

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