Arrest of rebel leader Sankara a relief for Rwanda’s tourism

Saturday May 4 2019

Canopy walk in Nyungwe park in Rwanda

Canopy walk at Nyungwe park, Rwanda. The government beefed up its military presence in the area after attacks by gunmen towards the end of last year. PHOTO | SUSAN MUUMBI | NMG 

IVAN R. MUGISHA
By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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The arrest of Rwandan dissident Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara came as a relief for the country’s tourism sector, which had suffered following attacks in the Nyungwe Forest, which Mr Nsabimana claimed responsibility for.

The Rwanda Investigative Bureau (RIB) said on Tuesday last week that it had arrested Mr Nsabimana, the spokesperson of the rebel group National Liberation Front (FLN).

“Mr Nsabimana has been on the ‘most wanted’ list over several offences committed on Rwandan territory including formation of an irregular armed group, complicity in committing terrorist acts, taking persons hostage, murder and looting,” said RIB.

The RIB officials declined to provide further details about the arrest, or when he will be arraigned in court—and whether neighbouring countries Burundi, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo had co-operated in his arrest.

The FLN, based in eastern DR Congo, was formed by Paul Rusesabagina and his heroic actions during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi inspired the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda.

The relatively new rebel group was formed in July 2018 as part of a larger opposition group, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), composed of former military men and politicians, as well as fighters recruited from older groups like the FDLR.

FLN has targeted Rwanda’s tourist zones. The group claimed to have captured a sizeable area in Nyungwe Forest—home to 278 species of birds,chimpanzees and colobus monkeys. The forest has some 13 hiking trails.

The government beefed up its military presence in the Nyungwe area after attacks by gunmen in the area towards the end of last year.

In several social media posts, Mr Nsabimana claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that his rebel group‘s agenda was to topple President Paul Kagame.

The heightened security concerns around Nyungwe forest prompted some Western countries to issue travel advisories to Rwanda.

Travel advisories

In mid April, the French embassy in Rwanda issued an advisory discouraging its citizens from visiting the area “following recent incidents in and around the Nyungwe Forest.”

But, the government maintained that the country was safe for tourists.

“Even with the current travel advisories, the country is still very safe as the risk level barely changed. It is at the same level as France and the UK,” said Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera, adding, “In fact, the numbers of tourists visiting Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Park have kept increasing.”

Tourism is among Rwanda’s top foreign exchange earners, fetching $438 million in 2017 up from $404 million the previous year.

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