Rwanda has denied allegations that it is offering a safe haven for Burundian opposition members.
Bujumbura has accused Kigali of supporting rebel groups planning to wage war against President Pierre Nkuruzinza’s government.
Addressing a press conference in Kigali on last week, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo described the allegations as baseless; pointing out that it is natural that Rwanda is a gateway for Burundians who are seeking refuge.
“Burundi’s problem is not Rwanda. When leaders take decisions, they should be able to live with the consequence. We are not insensitive to the lives of Burundians. We just don’t have the mandate,” said Ms Mushikiwabo.
She pointed out that Rwanda had deliberately kept quiet about the Burundi’s crisis because “it’s for Burundians to take the first step to solve their own problems.”
It is the first time Rwanda has come out publicly to deny the allegations after months of tension between the two countries. The deteriorating diplomatic ties led to the expulsion two weeks ago of Désiré Nyaruhirira, the first counsellor at the Rwandan embassy in Bujumbura, for allegedly creating insecurity in the country.
There have been reports of frequent arrests and detentions of Rwandans in Bujumbura on suspicion of spying on the government. This has affected cross-border movement of goods and people between the two countries.
But despite the developments and mounting climate of fear among the two countries’ citizens, Ms Mushikiwabo insisted that Rwanda has opted to keep calm on and wait for things in Burundi to first get back on track.
“Our priority now is to just keep calm and help Burundi get back to normal; the time will come when all these issues will be raised.”
Analysts have warned that the allegations could strain the two countries’ relations further since the Burundian government has sought the help of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) on the matter. In an official complaint filed with the ICGLR in early September, Burundi accused Rwanda of acts of aggression against its territory.
Bujumbura also accused Rwanda of violating the region’s mutual security and defence agreements on non-aggression by supporting insurgency and providing refuge to the generals who attempted to overthrow President Nkurunziza’s regime in April this year.
ICGLR foreign affairs ministers who met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York recently resolved to send a Joint Verification Mission to verify the allegations, and urged Rwanda to facilitate deployment.
However, Kigali rejected the decision, saying it was contrary to what was agreed and accusing the ICGLR Secretariat of taking unilateral decisions. The Rwanda-Burundi issue was again top on the agenda of the meeting of ICGLR defence ministers held in Luanda last week.
The summit, at which Rwanda was not represented directed Angola, Kenya and Uganda to work with both Rwanda and Burundi governments to implement the resolution in a bid to find an amicable solution to the tensions between the two countries.
Rwanda is hosting about 70,000 Burundian refugees — 50 thousand in camps and the rest live with relatives or friends across the country.