The tension between Kigali and Bujumbura has escalated with Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza saying his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame sought to overthrow his government in the failed coup of May 13, 2015.
In a highly confidential letter seen by ChimpReports, Nkurunziza tells President Museveni, who is the Chairman East African Community (EAC), that “In addition to the fact that Rwanda has prepared and supervised the coup detat of 2015, the coup perpetrators and other criminals have taken up residence where they receive support to attack Burundi; crossing the Rwanda-Burundi border or via the East of Democratic Republic of Congo as well as getting them assistance and travel documents to enable them to circulate in the region and even in Europe.”
It’s understood this is not the first time in several years that Nkurunziza is speaking out against what he described as “Rwanda’s aggression” in correspondences with regional leaders.
But yesterday’s strong-worded letter, which was copied to Kagame, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and South Sudan leader, Salva Kiir, underscored the growing regional security crisis whose magnitude diplomats have struggled to keep under wraps for several years.
It all started in 2015 with President Nkurunziza attending the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State meeting in Tanzania when dissident generals announced the takeover of the Burundian government.
The then Tanzanian leader, Jakaya Kikwete and his Ugandan counterpart, Museveni, quickly marshalled elite Special Forces and military choppers to help Nkurunziza return home.
The return of Nkurunziza did not guarantee immediate peace as fighting in different parts of the country lasted several days.
The deadly battles not only paralysed Bujumbura but increased the exodus of Burundians to neighbouring countries ahead of the elections, citing intimidation.
They claimed fearing retribution for not supporting Nkurunziza, a claim government denied.
This compelled the EAC to appoint former Tanzanian leader Benjamin Mkapa to facilitate talks between rival Burundian groups and also advise on a roadmap that would lead to permanent peace and stability in Burundi.
Mkapa recently presented his report to President Museveni, who is the EAC chairman, advising structural political reforms and talks with exiled coup plotters.
Nkurunziza who was expected to attend last week’s EAC Heads of State meeting in Arusha refused to travel, saying the event was scheduled at a time when the country was in mourning period in memory of Independence Heroes Prince Louis Rwagasore and Melchoir Ndadaye.
While this partly explains Nkurunziza’s absence, his letter shows it was more to do with his frustration with Rwanda.
Nkurunziza says Mkapa’s report appears to have examined Burundi’s challenges from April 2015 yet “the uprising, the coup attempt of May 13, 2015, the armed attacks from Rwanda (January 2015) and (July 2015) as well as the terrorist attacks some neighborhoods of Bujumbura, represent the culmination of the refusal for democracy since 2010, when those who lost communal elections preferred to abandon the rest of the electoral process and began to sabotage any government action and swore in public and in the media that in 2015 there would be no elections.”
The Burundian leader says Mkapa’s report, which calls for inclusive talks with all stakeholders, “fails to clarify this capital element to successfully close this dialogue and which could help to better understand all shape of the 2015 electoral process and the challenges Burundi has faced.”
Nkurunziza emphasized: “Hiding this reality would be a waste of time, a way of practicing the politics of the ostrich, which hides its head, forgetting that its whole body is uncovered and seen by all passers-by.”
In December 2016, this reporter asked President Kagame at a press conference in Kigali to respond to Bujumbura’s request to have Burundian dissidents repatriated home.
“We would be happy to return these people if only at the same time we are not accused of doing other things,” said Kagame, adding, “It’s easy to make people pack and send them back home. But the implications are far-reaching.”
Kagame further said, “It’s not that simple. There are a few things to be talked about.”
One of the things Kagame said he wanted the region to exhaust was the peace talks.
“I think there are things to look at – facts, circumstances which people left the country. 90,000 refugees fled their country,” he said.
Dozens of army officers suspected of participating in military efforts to topple president Nkurunziza fled to Rwanda, saying the Burundian leader could not guarantee their security.
They further accused the Nkurunziza of overstaying in power and committing human rights abuses.
Kagame said then he would have preferred the issue of Burundian fugitives be resolved via known EAC structures. “It would have required some discussion,” he said.
However, Nkurunziza is opposed to Mkapa’s report which is set to be tabled before the EAC heads of state for discussion, arguing it does not address Rwanda’s alleged destabilisation activities in Burundi.
“It is more surprising that this report to be endorsed by the EAC ignores the aggression of Burundi by Rwanda, a member state of the community and against which Burundi formally complained to the authorities empowered by the EAC, ICGLR, African Union and the United Nations,” Nkurunziza told Museveni in the letter dated Wednesday, December 4.
He further revealed that “Burundi and other observers have shown that young Burundians, including children, were recruited from refugee camps in Mahama for example and enlisted in criminal gang units and death squads for the purpose of destabilizing Burundi.”
Rwanda has repeatedly denied engaging in activities that destabilize Burundi, saying an unstable neighbor is not good for business.
Officials who spoke to us on condition of anonymity to protect their jobs said Burundi maintains the highest level of military preparedness in the wake of the worsening relations with Rwanda.
At the diplomatic level, efforts to cool the tension are yet to bear fruit.
“We now fear for the worst. The diplomats are doing their job but Burundi is so suspicious of every move Rwanda makes. And the reverse is true because Kigali believes Nkurunziza is providing support to Rwandan rebels in South Kivu. Also, not everyone who fled is a coup plotter. There are people in exile with legitimate concerns that need to be listened to,” said a diplomat on Friday.
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