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Will Burundi Open Borders and Trust Rwanda Again?

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At the 59th Independence day celebrations, President of Burundi, Maj. Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye announced that his government was ready and willing to fix relations with Kigali.

“We will revisit the issues that affected us, put them in the past and open a new chapter,” Ndayishimiye said, adding that Burundi was ready to play its part in the efforts to fully restore ties.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda drew wide excitement  upon arriving in Bujumbura on Saturday February 4, 2023, for the 20th East African Community Extra-Ordinary Summit that focused on assessing the security situation in Eastern DRC.

President Ndayishimiye and President Kagame later held bilateral talks which political pundits consider as a major milestone in improving ties.

However, critics argue that the two countries still hold each other with suspicion because of unresolved issues dating back on May 13, 2015 when army general Godefroid Niyombare drove in a heavily guarded convoy and entered premises of the national radio station and announced that he was “dismissing President Pierre Nkurunziza.”

The bloody coup was quickly suppressed and general Godefroid Niyombare fled the country as Burundi authorities blamed Kigali for a hand in the attempted coup.

The head of the armed forces, Prime Niyongabo, said on state radio during the night of 13–14 May that the coup attempt had been defeated, and he called on rebel soldiers to surrender.

According to various sources, the Burundi coup plotters are believed to have crossed into Rwanda as refugees fleeing unrest in Burundi as the situation that time had turned extremely ugly.

Since then, the relations between Rwanda and Burundi have remained frosty and suspicious despite recent attempts by both sides to resume contacts.

“The so-called coup plotters ran to Rwanda as refugees, and we are bound by international norms in terms of handling refugees. So Rwanda cannot hand them back. We would be breaching international law,” Prof. Manasseh Nshuti, Rwanda’s State Minister for EAC Affairs.

Prof. Manasseh Nshuti accompanied President Kagame to Bujumbura for the summit on Saturday.

The Burundian authorities are still asking for the handover of the putschists, including Gen. Niyombare and his accomplices.

“So I think Burundi should not be using this excuse of refugees. They also have our refugees but we are not asking them back. No government should be able to do that unless the person is not a refugee but is a criminal,” Prof. Nshuti said then.

On August 19, 2021 the Burundian Prime Minister said in a Press statement, “As soon as this request is honoured, relations will return to normal.”

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