The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has said it will not summon Rwanda to respond to allegations that it is supporting insurgents against Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Rwanda has frequently denied that it provides arms and logistical support to groups seeking to destabilise Bujumbura. However, the allegations resurfaced at EALA as a delegation from Burundi defended a petition by human-rights groups to have the country suspended from the EAC.
EALA Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution Committee chairman Abdullah Mwinyi however told The EastAfrican that it would not summon Rwanda.
“Rwanda is free to respond during the parliamentary debate next week on the allegations made by the Burundi government on public hearing but my committee won’t summon it,” Mr Mwinyi said.
Last December, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame dismissed as “childish” allegations that Rwanda had stoked instability in Burundi and said Rwandan troops would play no part in any intervention in the neighbouring country.
A debate on Burundi is slated for next week when EALA members will air their views to be included in recommendations to be tabled to the Council of Ministers and later the Heads of State Summit.
Late last year, the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU) and the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF) asked EALA to recommend to the Heads of State Summit that Bujumbura be bypassed for the chairmanship of the bloc until it ends the crisis caused by President Nkurunziza’s assumption of a third term in office.
Should the assembly endorse the petition, the decision to suspend Burundi from the EAC will be made by the presidents of the member states at their Ordinary Summit in Dar es Salaam on February 29.
Atrocities Watch Africa, Centre for Citizens’ Participation in the African Union, the East Africa Law Society (EALS) and Kituo cha Katiba appended their signatures to the petition, urging EALA to call upon the chair of the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments of the African Union to take concrete steps towards preventing Burundi from descending into genocide or mass atrocities.
Such measures, the petition stated, include enhancing the numbers and capacity of the human-rights and military monitors deployed to the country. They also called for the AU sanctions regime to be effected.
The petitioners also urged the House to strongly recommend to the heads of state that Burundi not assume the rotating chairmanship of the EAC until it resolves the political, human-rights and humanitarian crisis.
The petition also cites numerous reports of assassinations and extrajudicial and arbitrary killings of more than 130 people and wants EALA to condemn these and what it terms inordinate use of force by the police, security forces and the Imbonerakure (Kirundi for “those who see far”) youth militia.
Civil society has requested the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution demanding that the militia be disarmed and its chiefs identified and arrested and that other persons illegally possessing firearms be ordered to surrender them.
A strong delegation led by Burundi’s Minister for EAC Affairs Leontine Nzeyimana pointed an accusing finger at Rwanda for allegedly backing the groups that have been carrying out attacks in Bujumbura.
“Burundi has been under attack and the majority of the armed insurgents arrested have confessed to having received training and arms from Rwanda,” Ms Nzeyimana told the media shortly after the public hearing.
The minister added: “It is not true that we are killing people... Burundi has been attacked by armed groups, and when an armed person attacks you, certainly you don’t welcome such a person with joy and fanfare, you defend yourself by using a weapon.”
Ms Nzeyimana asked EALA members to visit Burundi and see for themselves the peace process so as not to make a decision based on hearsay.
“Peace is being restored in Burundi and our position is that we are ready to assume the EAC chairmanship,” she stressed.
The opposition Burundi Democratic Rally (Radebu) chairman Jean de Dieu Mutabazi echoed the remarks, saying Rwanda was behind the war in a sister EAC member state and was worsening the unrest that has so far claimed hundreds of lives.
“There’s this neighbour of ours, Rwanda, under the warmonger President Paul Kagame, who has been fighting in DR Congo and recently wanted to fight Tanzania,” Mr Mutabazi charged. “He is the one providing arms and logistical support to the rebels attacking Burundi.”
Jacques Bigirimana, president of the FNL party, said although the belligerents were keen on national dialogue in a bid to end the political crisis, the country was under siege from what he termed as “destabilisation forces sponsored by Rwanda.”