African state shuts border with neighbor for ‘backing’ rebels
Burundi has announced the closure of its border with Rwanda, while suspending diplomatic relations with its East African neighbor. Martin Niteretse, the Burundian internal affairs minister, said on Thursday that the decision was in response to Kigali’s alleged support for a rebel group responsible for cross-border attacks.
The minister announced that the Burundian government had begun deporting Rwandan nationals, calling Rwandan President Paul Kagame a “bad neighbor.”
“We have suspended all relations with him until he comes to his senses. He is harboring criminals who are destabilizing Burundi,” the Associated Press quoted Niteretse as saying during a meeting with security officials in Kayanza province, near the Rwandan border.
“All the borders are closed. We don’t need Rwandans here, and even those who were on our territory, we chased them out,” he added.
Last month, Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye accused his Rwandan counterpart of hosting and training the RED-Tabara militia – a group that claims to oppose political control of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – the party that has ruled Burundi since 2005.
The group, designated a terrorist organization by the Burundian government, has been accused of a series of attacks in the landlocked nation since 2015. The gunmen claimed responsibility for an assault on December 22 near Burundi's western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), which authorities said killed at least 20 people, including security officials, and injured nine others.
While Rwanda has previously denied the allegations, Yolande Makolo, a government spokesperson, told Reuters on Thursday that the government had become aware of Burundi's decision to suspend diplomatic ties through media reports.
“This unfortunate decision will restrict the free movement of people and goods between the two countries, and violates the principles of regional cooperation and integration of the East African Community,” Makolo said, according to the news agency.
Rwanda, where the British government intends to deport illegal migrants arriving in the UK, has also been accused by the DR Congo of funding the M23 fighters, an insurgent group involved in deadly violence in the mineral-rich Central African country. Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, who won a second term in the country's recent elections, has threatened to declare war on Kigali if it continues to back the M23 rebels.
UN experts previously reported that Kigali was arming M23 militants in DR Congo and had provided training, financing, and logistical support for rebels in Burundi. The Rwandan government denied the allegations, describing them as an attempt to incite trouble in the region.