Uganda, Rwanda diplomats on close watch as tension persists

Saturday June 1 2019

Rwanda Uganda border

A Rwandan security officer inspects a vehicle from the Ugandan side at Cyanika border post. PHOTO | ROBERT MUHEREZA | NMG 

IVAN R. MUGISHA
By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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Uganda and Rwanda are keeping a close watch on each other’s diplomats, sources say, as the row over espionage claims persists.

On Wednesday, the Rwanda Defence Forces invited foreign military attaches and advisors on an excursion upcountry; however, Uganda’s defence advisor to Rwanda, Brig Gen Burundi Emmanuel Nyamunywanisa, did not attend. Sources say he was not invited.

The excursion had been arranged a week earlier for diplomats residing in Rwanda. Uganda’s ambassador to Rwanda, Oliver Wonekha, attended the event.

She later met the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Urujeni Bakuramutsa, but details of what was discussed were not made public.

The two countries have not taken up opportunities for mediation, with bilateral talks seeming unsuccessful.

The political tensions have hardly been addressed during regional meetings, raising concerns about the ability of regional and bilateral mechanisms to resolve emerging security challenges in the region.

The East African Community has maintained its silence on the matter, while the Joint Permanent Commission chaired by Rwanda has not met since March last year.

Officials had planned to meet under this mechanism last year shortly after a meeting between Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame in March, but it was postponed and later cancelled. Sources say that Uganda had sought the revival of the JPC but Rwanda declined.

High-level meetings

Rwanda says that its complaints against Uganda have been presented directly by President Kagame to President Museveni at two previous meetings.

“Such matters cannot be solved by low-ranking officials at the JPC. We have addressed these matters directly; it can’t go higher than when President Kagame addressed President Museveni at two separate meetings,” said Rwanda’s State Minister for EAC Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe.

The two presidents have not met since political tensions escalated in late February when Rwanda closed its border and stopped its citizens from travelling to Uganda, claiming that hundreds had been illegally arrested, tortured and some killed or deported by Kampala’s security organs.

Kigali also accused Kampala of supporting rebels opposed to President Kagame’s government, a claim that received new impetus when rebel leader, Callixte Nsabimana, told a Kigali court that he was getting support from Uganda’s intelligence agency.

Rwanda insists that its travel advisory against Uganda will not be revoked until its citizens are released, allowed legal counsel or presented with detailed charges of their crimes.

Rwanda says only two Rwandans have been produced at Uganda’s general court martial and charged with espionage.

Uganda has also accused its neighbour of infiltrating its security organs—saying that the Rwandans it has arrested are suspected of espionage.

Presidents Museveni and Kagame sat next to each other and were seen to be chatting on May 24 at the inauguration of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the week when a Rwandan soldier is said to have killed a Rwandan and Ugandan accused of smuggling.

A dispute erupted after the shooting, with Uganda accusing Rwandan soldiers of violating border demarcations to chase down and shoot the suspects from within its territory. Rwanda said the shooting happened on its own soil.

The political tensions between the two countries have paralysed the flow of goods and people, and a dealt a heavy blow to the lives of citizens residing in border communities.

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