With growing uncertainty following the week-long customs paralysis along the Uganda-Rwanda borders, Rwanda has doubled down on its accusations against Uganda saying it hasn’t yet got explanation from Kampala on their concerns.
Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Richard Sezibera on Tuesday re-echoed the allegations that Uganda has been detaining and deporting Rwandan citizens on Ugandan territory as well as harbouring dissidents with “intent to harm Rwanda.”
A few days ago, after the Katuna border was closed off causing a customs crisis, Sezibera “strongly advised” Rwandans not to travel to Uganda, to avoid being detained and tortured.
However, Rwandans were a day later seen desperately trying to access Uganda. It took Rwandan government intervention to stop them from traveling into Uganda.
Now the Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister has on Tuesday, added yet another claim against Uganda – sabotage of trade.
“For some reasons, Rwandan goods find difficulty either transiting through Uganda or being sold in Uganda. Rwandans deported claim their businesses are closed and then they are deported. Some are people who have been in Uganda for quite some time,” Sezibera told reporters in Kigali where he was addressing a news conference.
“If someone has a container of products going through a country, we are landlocked so when you tamper with that movement, then for us as a landlocked country, it is a serious matter”.
“There are other things like milk. We can’t send milk through Uganda. So, there are some of these difficulties for which we have asked for an explanation [from Uganda] and we have not yet received an explanation”.
Uganda has however never closed the border to Rwandans or the country’s products. Rwanda made pepper (Akabanga) is seen on most of the shelves of Ugandan supermarkets and restaurants.
Sezibera said there have been efforts between Kigali and Kampala to get to the bottom of the concerns including use of diplomatic channels, but added that no headway has been made this far.
“There are issues between the two countries (Uganda and Rwanda) but we are optimistic for solution. We have been engaging our counterparts but it is still work in progress,” he said.
Sezibera added: “We have not received any satisfactory answer to the questions we have put to our Ugandan counterparts at various fora including during a meeting between the two heads of state. We have also written to them severally through diplomatic channels”.
While authorities in Uganda have said there were engagements with Rwanda to have the crisis resolved, Sezibera’s statement further cultivated skepticism about a quick and positive outcome.
He said rebels affiliated to Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) who previously carried out terror attacks in Rwanda have been working “seemingly freely” in Uganda with the support of some government officials.
“Some of the FDLR people who were responsible for genocide here, some of those people were arrested in DRC on their return from Uganda. And through good cooperation, they have been handed over to Rwanda. They detailed these activities and we have shared that information with Uganda”.
Rwanda has over the years projected hostility to neighbours; Burundi, DRC, Tanzania and now Uganda. They accused DR Congo of harbouring and supporting genocidaires and FDLR.
Uganda recently handed over to the UN, former M23 combantants who fought against President Kabila’s government. A panel of UN experts had in the past made a report saying the Rwandan government supported M23. The International Conference for Great Lake Region (ICGLR) later mediated the giving up of arms fight by M23. Uganda who at the time chaired the ICGLR was requested by regional countries to host the M23 until their safety in DR Congo was assured. DR Congo’s Ambassador commended Uganda for the gesture of repatriating M23 former combantants.
Rwanda’s top diplomat said that whereas Rwanda champions regional integration, “we want practical things” and “we also put safety of our people before trade”.
“That said, we are handling these issues and I believe this is not the most difficult of circumstances Rwanda has been through and overcame,” he added.
He said over 190 Rwandans are known to have been arrested illegally in Uganda for the past two years. These are not allowed consular services as prescribed by international laws, he said.
But Uganda has repeatedly denied these claims, saying there have been no such arrest except for those that follow legal procedure.
Ugandan Police has in the past said the Rwandans deported were arrested while engaging in undercover operations that compromise National Security and judicial process was followed to deport them. Some of the Rwandans listed by Rwanda government as harassed in Uganda are currently facing the General Court Martial over kidnapping and illegally repatriating Rwandan refugees. Rene Rutagungira is one of those. While Rwanda says they are concerned about their citizens’ safety, many Rwandans run to Uganda seeking refugee status. Uganda has maintained an open door policy for all refugees in Africa and the policy has been commended as one of the best on the continent.
Last week, Ofwono Opondo, the Uganda goverment spokesperson dismissed Rwanda’s claims that Rwandans are not safe in Uganda, saying Rwandans continue to live normally as always in Uganda.
“To the best of our knowledge, there is no Rwandan in Police custody outside the jurisdiction of the law and if there is one, he/she has been processed through the police and Judicial system,” he said.
“There is no Rwandan citizen who is being held in Uganda’s prisons on political reasons whatsoever. If there is anybody who knows such a person, we will be glad if that information is shared with Uganda, so that we find out his identity and who is holding him”.
In the wake of the diplomatic and economic strife between the two countries, many observers have proposed that the existing concerns between Uganda and Rwanda be presented to the regional community for a solution to reached.
Sezibera says some of the issues have already been taken there but that Rwanda had preferred a bilateral approach to seek solution to outstanding issues.
The Minister refuted the reports regarding an alleged deployment of troops on Rwanda-Uganda border, but added that there would be no issue in Rwanda deploying troops anywhere on her territory.
According to Uganda Revenue Authority, over 100 trucks some loaded with perishable and highly inflammable products remain clogged up at Katuna border, which poses serious risks. Traders especially those dealing in items that have a short shelf life continue to count losses as the rest could be losing millions of Shillings in the six days the trucks have been parked at the border.