The government of Uganda has for the first time explained why dozens of Rwandans have been arrested over the past few years and some are still in detention within the country.
The arrest and detention of Rwandans in Uganda was cited by Rwanda as one of the key reasons Uganda’s neighbour to the south-west advised its citizens against travelling to Uganda. Rwanda has consistently accused Uganda of aiding forces that seek to destabilise its security and perhaps overthrow its government.
Rwanda in February closed its border to goods from Uganda and its forces have all year endeavoured to keep imports from Uganda entering into Rwanda.
Some individuals, some Rwandan and others Ugandan, have in the process been shot dead by Rwandan soldiers as they smuggled merchandise into the country.
As allegations against Uganda flew from Rwanda, Uganda largely remained quiet, hardly giving substantive responses. The standard response from the authorities in Kampala was that relations between the two countries were not to be managed in the media.
This changed on Friday night, however.
This was at the sidelines of the second meeting of the ad hoc commission to discuss the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Uganda and Rwanda in Angola in August, which was held at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo in Kampala.
Uganda’s Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa told reporters: “One of the issues Uganda raised was infiltration of Ugandan security agencies by Rwanda government and its people. That issue has been discussed and will continue to be discussed, and that is the reason why people (Rwandans) have been arrested.”
Mr Kutesa said Uganda has no difficulty releasing those arrested, but added: “We must also discuss and end this issue of attempted infiltration of our agencies because that is the only cause.”
The Ugandan government has in the past not spoken much about the infiltration of the country’s security forces that Mr Kutesa hinted on, but at least one Rwandan has in the recent past been charged, with high profile Uganda police officers and former police boss Gen Kale Kayihura.
One of the charges they face is illegal arrest and repatriation of Rwandan refugees in Uganda to Rwanda. Mr Rene Rutagungira, the Rwandan national in question, is still on remand.
At the meeting in Munyonyo, reporters hovered over the place for at least seven hours as the talks went deep into the night, expecting that a joint communique signed by both parties, which they had been promised at the outset, would be released. In the end it was not, with each of the sides separately briefing the press.
Rwanda’s minister of state for East Africa Community, Mr Olivier Nduhungirehe, said he was concerned that four months since the Luanda agreement was signed and almost three months since the Kigali communique was issued, Rwanda has seen escalation on the most contentious issues that he said his country had repeatedly raised with the Ugandan counterparts and with the facilitators.
“Support to armed groups attempting to wreak terror on Rwanda, and illegal detention of Rwandans in Uganda, has not ceased,” Mr Nduhingirehe said.
He further stated that operatives and leaders of groups he said want to destabilise Rwanda continue to receive facilitation and safe passage through Uganda, facilitated even by senior officials of the government. He named names.
Responding to this claim, Mr Kutesa said: “Uganda will not try to subvert the government of Rwanda because there is no reason and no benefit and cause for such.”
Mr Kutesa said the best way to succeed in resolving the current impasse was having good faith and goodwill between the two sister countries.
He said the meeting proposed establishment of a joint verification mechanism where “both of us look at each other’s allegations and try to establish the truth. Because we think this will be the basis of goodwill.”
While the meeting was highly expected to resolve the issue of the closed border at Katuna/Gatuna, when asked how soon this could be achieved, Mr Nduhungirehe said it would only happen once the issues of continued arrest of Rwanda citizens by the Ugandan security forces and the alleged support to subversive groups are addressed.
“It is about our state sovereignty and security; it is about the safety of Rwandans and, if we resolve these two issues, I believe that we could resume trade without any problem as we are committed to the common market protocol of the East African Community,” Mr Nduhungirehe stated.
The two delegations resolved to further consult with their respective heads of state for a way forward on the matter.
The meeting, however, noted progress on the extradition treaty between the two countries, with Rwanda said to be working on the amendments received from Uganda before coming up with the final text.
The meeting was attended by the delegations from Angola and DR Congo, who are the facilitators to the Luanda agreement.
The presidents of Rwanda and Uganda in August signed an agreement in Angola to ease months of tensions between the two countries.