Rwanda has reiterated its unwillingness to deport individuals accused of orchestrating the 2015 coup plot against former Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Burundi handed over a list of names of individuals to Rwanda it wants to be deported — as a major condition for relations between both countries to thaw — but Rwanda has insisted that the individuals are considered as refugees who must be protected against deportation by international laws.
Both countries have not officially disclosed the names on the list.
“The so-called coup plotters ran to Rwanda as refugees, and we are bound by international norms in terms of handling refugees. So Rwanda cannot hand them back. We would be breaching international law,” Manasseh Nshuti, Rwanda’s State Minister for EAC Affairs told The EastAfrican.
“So I think Burundi should not be using this excuse of refugees. They also have our refugees but we are not asking them back. No government should be able to do that unless the person is not a refugee but is a criminal.”
The matter relates to the May 2015 failed coup against former president now deceased Pierre Nkurunziza, when army general Godefroid Niyombare and rebels attempted to depose him, while he was in Tanzania attending an EAC Summit.
Some reports at the time said Gen Niyombare had been arrested alongside others and charged with mutiny, but the Burundi government says he is "still on the run and his whereabouts are unknown."
Rwanda said instead of deporting them, it is seeking to send them to a third country, a stance that did not go well with the Burundian government.
“What we want to do is to give them over to a third country where they can relocate far away from Burundi. But even without this, the individuals are not a threat to Burundi. They are not using Rwanda as a base to attack Burundi,” Mr Nshuti said. The Burundian government was not available by press time to comment, but previously, officials have said that they will continue to demand the international community to pressure Rwanda into deporting the individuals. “Justice is the only thing that will bring together Burundians and those perpetrators because the crimes were committed in Burundi, against Burundians so the Burundian judicial body should take care of it … So what we call for is for international community to pressure Rwanda to respect international laws,” Jean Claude Karerwa Spokesperson of the Burundi Presidency said at a press conference last month.
Burundi rejected the “third country” notion, noting that no other country is needed in the affairs of Rwanda and Burundi. “The President said that there is no mediator needed between Rwanda and Burundi because Rwanda and Burundi we are like brothers and sisters, we speak the same language we can discuss our problems without any mediator,” Mr Karerwa added.
- Additional reporting by a correspondent.