Kigali has demanded the release of what it described as “illegally arrested” Rwandans in Uganda before the reopening of the common border of Gatuna, a condition Uganda is yet to buy.
President Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame on Wednesday signed a pact providing that the countries resume cross-border activities, including movement of persons and goods.
Rwanda’s decision to close the border in March has denied its citizens access to food and other items obtained from Uganda, leading to a spike in prices for essential household commodities.
On the other hand, Ugandan businessmen exporting goods to Rwanda have lost billions of shillings after the border closure.
It was hoped that Rwanda would reopen the border to allow movement of people and goods while Uganda is expected to “protect the rights and freedoms of the nationals of the other party residing or transiting in their national territories, in accordance with laws of their countries.”
However, Rwanda’s State Minister in charge of East African Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told government-owned newspaper, The New Times on Thursday that, “The travel advisory notice will be removed as soon as all Rwandan citizens illegally detained in Uganda are released.”
He added: “They [Uganda] were arresting them (Rwandans) on a daily basis. They should release all of them, without exception.”
Nduhungirehe stressed that “all commitments made in the MoU must be implemented.”
The MoU signed by both leaders doesn’t specifically provide for the release of arrested Rwandan nationals in Uganda.
Contacted for comment, Uganda Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Amb James Mugoya said: “That may be their (Rwandans) position which has not been communicated to us formally. The spirit of what was agreed is that all the issues have to be resolved amicably.”
Asked if Uganda will release the Rwandans whom authorities accuse of espionage, harassing refugees and engaging in activities which destabilize Uganda, Mugoya responded: “Our position that all Rwandans are welcome to Uganda. If people are arrested, the due process of the law must be followed.”
He emphasised: “We expect each other’s citizens to conduct themselves in accordance with the law. If you break the law in Uganda, whether you are a Rwandan or anybody from whichever country, you are held to account.”
“If you have a case to answer, you just can’t be released because the law has to be followed.”
Currently, Rwandans are not allowed in Uganda. Furthermore, Ugandan goods can’t access the Rwandan market.
Rwandan authorities recently removed Ugandan goods from shops in different parts of the country including Kigali.
This situation has fueled smuggling across the border.
Mugoya expressed hope that the Angola Accord would hold despite the conditions set by Rwandans to reopen the border.
“We’ve just signed this MoU. Let’s give it time. A Ministerial committee is being set up to handle all these issues. Let’s try to deescalate the situation,” he observed.
As of Friday afternoon, several Ugandan media outlets remained inaccessible in Rwanda. They include The Observer, Nile Post and Soft Power among others.
The blocking of the sites came after Ugandan authorities temporarily restricted access to Rwandan blogs and websites, saying they were disseminating harmful propaganda.
“The commission instructed operators to block the same (Rwandan websites) for publishing harmful propaganda that endangers the national security of Uganda,” said UCC spokesperson Ibrahim Bbosa.
“We are engaging the regulator (Rwanda) and hope this will be temporary,” he added.
Speaking on the blocking of Ugandan websites in Rwanda, a senior media aide of President Kagame, said on Twitter: “We don’t get slapped and offer the other cheek. No apologies.”