Rwanda and Burundi foreign affairs ministers have met to iron out the political and security concerns between the two east African countries that led to closure of the border partitioning them.
The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Rwanda and Burundi met in the morning hours of Tuesday October 20, 2020 at Nemba One Stop Border Post in Bugesera District to discuss ways of restoring bilateral ties between the two countries.
The meeting at Nemba came after Bujumbura expressed willingness to talk to Rwanda, with this being the first meeting for the Foreign Affairs Ministers since 2015 when the two countries’s relations completely broke down.
This crucial meeting follows a similar one of security chiefs of the two countries in late August. Officials of the two neighbours have not met nor cooperated since 2015. The military intelligence officials that met agreed to “work towards the return of security to their common borders.”
Rwanda and Burundi are negotiating a path towards enforcing security at their common border, a move aimed at ending longstanding hostilities and a return to the good relations they once shared.
Following months of angry exchanges, in late January, 2019, Rwanda issued a series of arrest warrants against individuals allegedly involved in armed opposition groups based in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwanda accused Burundi of supporting those groups. Burundi in turn accused Rwanda of supporting Burundian armed opposition groups in the DRC.
A clash over the M23 rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at a meeting of regional leaders in November 2012 saw a marked worsening of the relationship between President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has since passed on and President Paul Kagame.
Diplomatic relations further deteriorated in 2015, after President Pierre Nkurunziza was re-elected for a third term.
In October 2015, Burundi expelled Rwanda’s top diplomat, Desire Nyaruhirira, over allegation of plans to destabilise the country, and both countries increasingly been accusing each other of supporting its opponents.
An estimated 230 000 Burundians fled to neighboring countries since April 2015, many to Rwanda, leading Kagame to criticize Nkurunziza’s decision to seek his controversial third term in office.
A United Nations panel report indicated that Burundian refugees, including children, were recruited at a refugee camp in eastern Rwanda and trained for two months to unseat President Nkurunziza. Following the accusations of training and arming rebels in Rwandan refugee camps, thousands of pro-government demonstrators rallied in Bujumbura, Gitega and Ngozi, against Rwanda.
However, after the unexpected death of Nkurunziza on June 8, 2020 and the swearing in of a new government headed by President Évariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi and Rwanda are back to talking terms.
A tripartite agreement between Burundi, Rwanda and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the repatriation of Burundian refugees on Rwandan soil was signed on August 13, 2020, and hundreds of Burundian refugees have since returned home from Rwanda.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Vincent Biruta said that Rwanda was willing to play its part in the thawing of bilateral ties, to ensure that the citizens of the two countries co-exist as they were before ties broke down.
“We would like to welcome you to Rwanda and to thank you for the decision to have this meeting for us to discuss, not only as neighbours but also as blood relatives, which is why we will speak in Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, without anyone translating for us,”
“Your visit today is a big step towards restoring ties between Rwanda and Burundi. I want to affirm to you that we are ready to do our part towards restoring ties between our two countries and to discuss existing issues and arrive at a solution. We are doing this because this is not only important for our governments but also our citizens who benefit when relations are good,” Dr Biruta said.
On his part, Burundi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation Ambassador Albert Shingiro said that his government was looking forward to fruitful discussions and ‘less meetings’ as the two countries work towards faster and full restoration of ties.
“As the Government of Burundi, we came here to express our willingness to work towards restoring ties which were affected in 2015. We want to ensure that the issues that exist between our two countries are addressed so that we go back to existing as neighbours and relatives.
“I have always told people who suggest that they want to mediate relations between Rwanda and Burundi that it is not possible because we know each other so well as relatives and don’t need anybody to mediate us. We can do this on our own and this is what we are doing today,” Shingiro said.
Amb. Shingiro, who was accompanied by his assistant Bernard Ntahiraja, Sylvestre Nyandwi, Justice Minister of Burundi, Ferdinard Bashikaho, DG at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Dorothee Ndayiziga, Burundi’s ambassador to Rwanda, and Alfred Innocent from the President’s Office, said his government was hopeful that the meetings would be fewer and ensure that ties between the two countries are restored as soon as possible.
While Rwanda’s Biruta was accompanied by Shakilla umutoni, Director General of Africa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fidele Munyeshyaka, Rwanda’s ambassador to Burundi, and Brig Gen Nzabamwita, the Secretary-General of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Assistant Commissioner of Police Lynder Nkuranga, Rwanda’s new head of External Intelligence and Bugesera District mayor Richard Mutabazi were also part of Rwanda’s delegation.
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