Rwanda says won’t join African Union force for Burundi
Kigali (AFP) – Rwanda will not contribute troops to a peacekeeping mission in neighbouring Burundi, President Paul Kagame said, as he rejected claims his country was arming refugees as rebels.
The 54-member African Union said Friday it would send a 5,000-strong force to halt violence that has sparked fears Burundi is sliding back towards civil war.
The AU has pledged to send troops despite Burundi’s opposition to what it terms an “invasion force”.
Burundi’s unrest erupted in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July.
Relations between Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi are tense, with Bujumbura accusing Kigali of backing armed rebels and political opponents of Nkurunziza.
“We have made it clear that even with the proposed contingents to be sent to Burundi, we will not be part of that,” Kagame told reporters late Tuesday.
“But we can contribute in a different form,” he added, without giving details.
– ‘Find a political solution’ –
Hundreds of people have been killed in months of street protests in Burundi, which have devolved into frequent armed attacks with gunfire disrupting the nights and dead bodies appearing on city streets almost every day.
“What I find more important is to answer how Burundi can be assisted to find a political solution,” Kagame said.
“It’s not primarily a military problem, although we see many things happening there that may require use of some level of intervention to silence the guns.”
Kagame dismissed allegations levelled by Burundian officials and aid groups that Rwanda is recruiting and arming refugees as rebel fighters.
US-based advocacy group Refugees International said last week that men and boys in Rwanda’s Mahama camp, run by the United Nations and Rwandan authorities, were being recruited into “non-state armed groups” and faced threats if they refused.
The charity said the Burundian recruits are trained in Rwanda and then efforts are made to send them back to Burundi via neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We have told people to carry out investigations and find out who has gone where and how,” said Kagame.
“I haven’t even seen the tiniest evidence to that so it becomes a lot of politicking,” Kagame said, calling the accusations “childish”.
There is growing international alarm over spiralling violence in Burundi, especially in neighbouring countries.
“I personally expressed my feelings and spoke out against what was going on in Burundi. Specifically it was taking many lives but also had the potential to spill over to us,” Kagame said.
“Many of our people have been arrested in Burundi and this was mainly done because of expressing our feelings about what was going on.”