BURUNDI called for talks with Rwanda following allegations its East African neighbour is backing rebels against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government.
Discussions with Rwanda are “urgent” and a mediator must be appointed, Gaston Sindimwo, Burundi’s first vice president, said on national television. Sudan has suggested it could play a mediation role, he said.
Sindimwo cited accusations from unspecified people that Rwanda is recruiting and training rebels from refugee camps hosting Burundians. Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo didn’t answer two phone calls and a text message seeking comment. President Paul Kagame has previously rubbished the claims.
“I haven’t even seen the tiniest evidence of that so it becomes a lot of politicking,” Kagame said in December, calling the accusations “childish.”
Kagame’s comment suggest that it’s unlikely Rwanda would take Burundi’s call seriously, as not only would it be seen as giving credence to the accusations, but it would also offer Bujumbura a separate political track away from the violence plaguing the central African country.
The U.S. last week expressed concern that Rwanda could be training rebels to fight in Burundi, where a political crisis has raged for almost 10 months.
The accusations are thought to be one of the reasons behind Kigali’s recent surprise announcement of plans to relocate the Burundi refugees to other countries.
Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April 2015 to run for a third term, which he went on to win.
In less than a year, hundreds of people have been killed and around 230,000 Burundians have fled the country. According to the UNHCR, some 75,000 of those have taken refuge in Rwanda.
Many Burundi refugees, saying they felt safe in Rwanda, have said they were worried about Kigali’s plans.
Exiled Burundian journalist Reverien Bazikanwe said he too was concerned.
But he said he understood Rwanda’s decision.
Kigali, he said, was reacting to unfounded accusations which he accused the Burundi government of using to “drown out the major issue” of the crisis in Burundi.
“It’s in the interests of Bujumbura to cloud the real issue,” he said.