President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has advised government officials to desist from responding to accusations by Rwandan government officials against Uganda, through the media.
This follows remarks by several Rwandan government officials in the media in regard to the denial of Ugandan cargo trucks from access to Rwanda, as well as stopping Rwandan nationals including primary school and Kabale University students from coming to Uganda for studies.
Using Twitter on March 1, the spokesperson of the government of Rwanda who also doubles as the minister of Foreign affairs, Dr Richard Sezibera, said stopping their nationals from crossing to Uganda is intended to ensure their own (Rwandan citizens) security.
He accused Uganda of torture, harassment, deportation and incarceration of Rwandan nationals without consular access.
On Friday, the same remarks were echoed by another Rwandan minister, Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe on Twitter while responding to Opondo’s tweet that “There’s no witch-hunt for Rwandans in Uganda. There’s also nobody from Rwanda being held by the Ugandan authorities for any reason. We would like to send a clear message to Rwanda that there’s no one Uganda is harassing from Rwanda or has in custody.”
The exchanges between the two officials went on for sometime, prompting Nduhungirehe to share a list of Rwandans allegedly in Uganda’s custody.
Similar remarks were made by Rwandan Ambassador to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambagye in an interview with one of the local Television stations in Uganda.
However, while addressing journalists at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala on Tuesday, Opondo said there are ongoing diplomatic engagements to fix the matter, and thus, President Yoweri Museveni, has advised them (government officials) not to respond to social and mainstream media remarks by their counterparts in Rwanda.
“For our comrades, the leaders in Rwanda to falsely accuse us using the media, President Museveni has advised us as government of Uganda not to respond to them through the media because other agencies of government are working on the matter,” Opondo said.
He says government will only respond to any issues raised by Kigali, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomatic service, adding that in all the previous engagements, the Ugandan government has been cooperative and therefore “any matters that are being raised by officials of Rwanda in the media, we shall not respond to them in the media”.
“We have bilateral and diplomatic engagements with them and we shall respond to them through those channels,” he added.
In a press conference last week, Ofwono Opondo told reporters that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had invited the Rwandan Ambassador to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambagye for a discussion on the matter, but the diplomat and government of Rwanda came out later to say there was no invitation for the engagement.
On Tuesday Opondo said: “Yes, I didn’t say summoned, I used the word invited. However, in diplomatic relations, once Ministers begin to speak, then speaking to the ambassador becomes superfluous. Speaking to the Minister supersedes.”
He says since then, the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the two countries have engaged and “therefore there was no more need for Ambassador Mugambagye to come to the Ministry of Foreign affairs.”
Situation at border points
At Katuna -Gatuna border post, the situation remains the same with over 100 Ugandan cargo trucks still denied access into Rwanda.
Opondo says: “Our customs officials have engaged the customs officials of Rwanda specifically on the 17 trucks – fuel tankers that are carrying inflammable fuel, which we appealed to them yesterday to allow through, but by today morning, they haven’t responded.”
He says government of Uganda has embarked on finding a way of pulling the inflammable trucks from the congested area to create a yard away in order to prevent catastrophic outcomes.
At Mirama hills – Kagitumba crossing point where authorities in Rwanda diverted traffic initially citing construction works at Gatuna, only to find it blocked as well, until the weekend when some trucks were allowed through, government says even on Tuesday, some trucks have gained access.
“Since Friday night, there is some easement particularly in Mirama hills. Based on advice of the Rwanda government, customs of Uganda put a check point in Ntungamo and goods and people, are being cleared,” Opondo said.
The situation at Kyanika – Cyanika border post is no different from that at Gatuna since no trucks from Uganda can access Rwanda. Rwandan nationals are still not allowed to cross to Uganda, but this, Opondo says “Uganda remains with open hands to all foreigners” saying obstruction of Rwandans from coming to Uganda is entirely within the jurisdiction of the government of Rwanda to advise their citizens on any matter but that Rwandans are welcome to Uganda, as always.
There have been media reports that Rwanda heavily deployed security personnel on the Rwanda side, but Opondo says, there is nothing wrong with it if true.
“If Rwanda deploys in their territory, what is the problem, you wanted them to deploy in whose territory? Is there a law which says Rwanda should not deploy in her territory? It will be a problem if Rwanda deployed in a territory which is not hers. As far as Uganda is concerned, we are not aware of what appears to be exceptional posture on our entire length of the border with Rwanda,” Opondo said.
Rwanda’s Foreign affairs Minister, Richard Sezibera has however refuted reports of deployment at their border, before adding that there wouldn’t be any problem even if they did since it is their territory.
Addressing a presser in Kigali on Tuesday, he made more allegations against Uganda, saying Uganda has subbotaged their trade especially milk trade. There is no evidence to suggest Uganda has closed borders to Rwandan products as some products are seen on Ugandan supermaket shelves. It is also not clear why the Minister takes to Twitter and the rest of the media instead of utilising existing diplomatic mechanisms.