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Rwanda-Uganda tension rises after border incident

By Romain Gras
Posted on Monday, 27 May 2019 17:37

Tensions have been high between Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

As fate would have it, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni, who have been at loggerheads for several months, found themselves side by side on Saturday at Cyril Ramaphosa's inauguration ceremony in Pretoria, South Africa.

At exact the same time, the diplomatic crisis in both countries was taking a new turn after an incident on the border between the two countries.

Kampala has accused the Rwandan army of killing two people near a border post in a violation of territorial integrity. Kigali contests this version of the incident and tension has increased.

Divergent accounts
According to a Ugandan police statement issued on Saturday, the incident occurred on Friday evening in the village of Kiruhura, near a border crossing in south-west Uganda.

  • A Rwandan trader reportedly tried to cross the border into Rwanda on a motorcycle loaded with goods and turned around in full view of the Rwandan soldiers.
  • The soldiers chased the trader, entering Ugandan territory about “80 metres” before shooting the young man in the head after he resisted arrest, the statement said.
  • According to the Ugandan version, the Rwandan army also killed a Ugandan citizen who tried to intervene, before retreating, leaving both bodies on the Ugandan side.

“The Ugandan government protests in the strongest terms against this violation of its territorial integrity by Rwandan soldiers as well as this brutal and violent criminal act,” the foreign affairs ministry added.

The Rwandan version of the incident differs. According to police, “the incident took place on the Rwandan side” in Tabagwe district.

  • A patrol reportedly intercepted an alleged smuggler who had just crossed the border from Uganda.
  • The individual became “violent”, according to the Rwandan police, and was “joined by others who attacked the officers with machetes while trying to return to Uganda”.
  • Security forces then shot and killed two people, including one Ugandan. “When the gang moved back to the Ugandan side of the border, no further action was taken by the patrol,” the police said.

The Rwandan ministry of foreign affairs said the incident was subsequently discussed by officials from the two border districts.

Recurrent tensions

After several months of warnings and mutual accusations between the two governments, the two deaths cast a new chill over relations between Kigali and Kampala, which fail to see eye-to-eye on several issues:

At the end of February, the temporary closure of one of the border crossings between the two countries – Gatuna in north-west Rwanda – due to construction work contributed to the deterioration of relations, with Uganda accusing its neighbour of trying to impose a trade embargo. According to Kampala, 44 Rwandan nationals were intercepted at the border and returned to Rwanda.

Kigali has also raised several problems, including cases of arrests and torture of its nationals in Uganda.

Rwandan authorities also accuse some Ugandan officials of maintaining links with – and providing support to – Rwandan rebel groups, including former General Kayumba Nyamwasa’s Rwanda National Congress (RNC). On Thursday, 23 May, during his first hearing before the Rwandan court, Callixte Nsabimana, an RNC dissident who has since become spokesman for the FNL (the armed wing of Paul Rusesabagina’s Mouvement Rwandais pour le Changement Démocratique), mentioned contacts with Ugandan intelligence.

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