Burundi deports Rwandans, closes border, alleging nation backs 'terrorist' rebel group

Burundi’s internal affairs minister on Thursday announced the country was suspending diplomatic ties with Rwanda, closing their border and deporting Rwandan citizens, claiming it was a response to its neighbor’s alleged support for a rebel group that has been attacking Burundi.

“(Rwandan President) Paul Kagame is a bad neighbor … We have suspended all relations with him until he comes to his senses. He is harboring criminals who are destabilizing Burundi,” Internal Affairs Minister Martin Niteretse said while meeting with security officials in Kayanza province near the Rwandan border.

The minister said Burundi’s government had started deporting Rwandan nationals. “All the borders are closed. We don’t need Rwandans here, and even those who were on our territory, we chased them out,” he said.

BURUNDI’S PRESIDENT CLAIMS RWANDA IS BACKING REBELS FIGHTING AGAINST HIS COUNTRY

The suspension of relations comes after a speech last month by Burundi’s President Évariste Ndayishimiye, who accused Rwanda of backing Burundian rebels known as RED-Tabara, which Burundi considers a terror group. The rebels claimed responsibility for a Dec. 22 attack that it said killed 10 security officials. The government said 20 people were killed, the majority of them civilians.

Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said in a statement that Burundi’s decision was unfortunate and violates the East African Community’s principles of regional cooperation. Rwanda has previously denied backing the rebels.

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Burundi has closed its border with Rwanda and deported Rwandans from its soil, fearing the nation sponsors violent rebel activity.

On Thursday, a Burundian manager for a bus company said police were turning back their vehicles coming from Rwanda at the Gasenyi-Nemba border crossing. The manager spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Révérien Burikukiye, who distributes food products between the two countries, said several Rwandans who use the Ruhwa border crossing were blocked while trying to return home, along with Burundians who had gone to a market in Rwanda.

“We are neighbors, our only concern is to live in harmony with the Rwandans,” Burikukiye said. “If the leaders have differences, let them resolve them without making us suffer.”

This is not the first time Burundi has closed its border with Rwanda. It closed them in 2015 during political violence in Burundi that followed the disputed reelection of then-President Pierre Nkurunziza. Burundian authorities accused Rwanda of supporting the protesters and welcoming the perpetrators of a failed coup. The border reopened in 2022.

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The RED-Tabara rebel group first appeared in 2011 and has been accused of a string of attacks in Burundi since 2015. It is believed to be based in eastern Congo.

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