Uganda’s foreign ministry has issued the first statement about the country’s relations with Rwanda, since the ongoing standoff that escalated last week on Wednesday when the main Katuna (Gatuna) border was partially closed.
The statement released on Tuesday 5 March addressed three main themes, including Rwanda’s accusations that Uganda was harbouring dissidents against the Kigali regime, in addition to harassing its citizens.
‘‘It is false that Uganda hosts any elements fighting Rwanda. Uganda does not and cannot allow anyone to operate from its territory that threatens a neighbour as alleged.’‘
‘‘It is not true that Uganda arrests, tortures and harasses Rwandans. Rwandans are welcome to visit Uganda. However Uganda expects that all visitors to the country including Rwandans remain law abiding because those who act contrary to the law, are dealt with in accordance with the law.’‘
‘‘It is unfortunate that the movement of goods and people across our common border with Rwanda, has been restricted. Uganda is committed to addressing any trade related issues, because we are convinced that doing so strengthens our regional integration.’‘
— Ofwono Opondo P'Odel (@OfwonoOpondo) March 5, 2019
Earlier on Tuesday, Rwandan Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera accused Uganda of offering succour to two foreign-based Rwanda rebel groups – Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
“RNC and FDLR work from Uganda with support of some authorities there. This is another serious case and we have raised it with them,” he told a news conference in Kigali.
The RNC is a rebel group led by some of Rwanda’s most prominent dissidents including South Africa-based Kayumba Nyamwasa. Its founders say it is a political party.
The FDLR is a rebel group composed in part of former Rwandan soldiers and Hutu militias who fled into Democratic Republic of Congo after massacring around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
The group has since sought to topple Kagame’s government.
Uganda officials call for calm
Ugandans and Rwandans have been urged to remain calm as their respective governments work to resolve an ongoing dispute over the arbitrary detention of Rwandan citizens.
Uganda’s prime minister Ruhakana Rugunda on Sunday appealed for calm, saying the country’s foreign affairs ministry was working to resolve the issue.
“Uganda and Rwanda are brotherly countries, therefore, people should not get worried because the issues shall be handled and concluded. The Uganda Foreign Affairs Ministry is working on the matter,” Rugunda told residents in the South Western town of Kabale.
These same sentiments were echoed by Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, who called for ‘calm and patience from both sides’.
“Uganda and Rwanda are two blood brothers in this regard you can’t rule out simple misunderstanding as family do. I beg for calm and patience from both sides,’‘ Okello said.
Thank you my brother. With good will and serious commitment to address the core issues, we shall indeed overcome. 🇷🇼 🇺🇬 https://t.co/XojywJMUty
— Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe (@onduhungirehe) March 3, 2019
Rwanda and Uganda have longstanding mutual suspicions and have occasionally traded allegations of supporting each other’s dissidents.
Last week, Uganda’s government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo said his government will review allegations of arbitrary detentions of Rwandans which authorities in Kigali have cited as one the reasons for stopping the country’s nationals from coming to Uganda.
Reports of army deployment
Earlier on Monday, Ugandan media reported that Rwanda had deployed the army along its common border with Uganda as a diplomatic rift continues to rage between the two East African neighbours.
Uganda’s privately-owned Observer news portal reported on Monday that Rwandan soldiers could be seen along the hills at Mukaniga, Byumba and Buganza.
The report added that: “… at Chanika in Kisoro district, the Rwandan army can be seen patrolling the Rwandan side of the border.”
It added that Uganda’s Internal Security Organization, ISO, officials and locals had also confirmed the development. On their side Ugandan authorities say they have not seen the need for such a deployment.
The two countries in 2000 fought a deadly war in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kisangani. It is reported that the duel led to over 1,000 casualties.
Rwanda only last week said its borders with Uganda remained opened but that it was strongly advised that nationals avoid travel to the neighbour.
Kigali accuses Kampala of arbitrary detention of its nationals and backing of groups that are working against Kigali.