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No deployment of troops at Uganda-Rwanda border, say authorities

media Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (right) pose for photographers at State House in Entebbe on 25 March 2018. Photo: Michele Sibiloni

Rwandan troops have not been deployed at the Ugandan border, according to Uganda’s government spokesperson, who denied reports in the Ugandan media that “heavily armed” soldiers had been stationed there.

The border crossing at Katuna has been closed since last week and Rwanda has advised its nationals to avoid travelling to Uganda.

“It’s Rwanda’s sovereign right to deploy on its side of the border for whatever reasons except perhaps provocation,” said Ofwono Opondo, Uganda’s government spokesperson. “For now, we don’t have that information as all border posts are calm except Katuna where the official reason is temporary closure and diversion due to ongoing civil works.”

Uganda’s Observer newspaper reported on Monday that “armed personnel” from the Rwanda Defence Force were seen in areas along the border, citing intelligence sources. The move would have marked an escalation in the tension over the border crossing.

Rwanda’s army spokesperson Innocent Munyengango told RFI that he had “no comment” on the reports, suggesting that the journalists responsible for the reports provide evidence of what was described as soldiers “visible in the hills”.

Authorities in Kigali last week closed the border crossing at Katuna, known as Gatuna in Kinyarwanda, due to construction works and security concerns.

Ugandan harassment?

“Rwandans are strongly advised not to travel to Uganda due to ongoing arrests, harassment, torture,” said Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera, directing heavy goods traffic to a border crossing at Kagitumba, some 120 kilometres from Katuna by road.

Opondo said “Ugandans and citizens of other countries are moving to and from Rwanda without undue impediments”, adding that Ugandan officials were working with their Rwandan counterparts to clear a backlog of trucks especially those carrying fuel.

Uganda government communications shared images of “over 130 cargo trucks” stuck at the border crossing, saying they had already been cleared by Ugandan customs.

Spokesperson Opondo last week said, “there is no witch hunt for Rwandese in Uganda”, denying that Rwandans were being harassed.

However, Rwandan Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Olivier Nduhungirehe hit back, describing Opondo’s comments as “actually and demonstrably incorrect”, saying more than 40 Rwandans were being detained by Ugandan military intelligence and over 800 Rwandans had been deported from Ugandan or refused entry to the country since the start of last year.

Closure of the border crossing at Katuna has temporarily crippled the movement of goods between the two countries. Landlocked Rwanda moves a large part of its imports through Uganda from the Kenyan port of Mombasa. The same route is also used for Kenyan exports and helps supply goods to neighbouring countries including Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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