The rebel group of Maj Callixite Nsabimana, aka Sankara, who Rwanda claims to have implicated Uganda on subversion against its neighbour to the south-west, has spoken out on the allegations.
Maj Sankara, the spokesperson of the National Liberation Forces (FLN), the armed wing of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) which declared war on the government of Rwanda, was arrested last month in the Comoros and repatriated to Rwanda.
He has since reportedly pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism and murder and admitted to working with foreign governments against Kigali.
On Thursday, the three-month fallout between the two neighbouring countries hit another low when a Rwandan minister claimed in a tweet that the arrested rebel leader had implicated the Ugandan government in subversive activities against Rwanda.
Rwanda’s state minister for East Africa Community Affairs, Mr Olivier Nduhungirehe, tweeted: ‘Beyond illegal arrest and torture of a hundred Rwandan citizens in Uganda, we now learn that this man [posts picture], Brig Gen Abel Kandiho, head of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), met with Callixte Nsabimana to plan destabilising Rwanda. Was it also “by accident”?’
Neither Brig Kandiho nor army spokesman Brig Richard Karemire would comment on the allegations. They always refer all questions about the Rwanda fallout to the Foreign Affairs ministry.
Contacted over the matter, Mr Henry Oryem Okello, the State minister for International Affairs, described the allegations by Mr Nduhungirehe thus: “It is very regrettable, unfortunate and strange that fake and false allegations continue to be imposed against the government of Uganda, rather than actual, factual and reconciliatory messages from a brotherly country.”
Sunday Monitor contacted Mr Deltus Byaruhanga, the commissioner for media and communication for MRCD/FLN, for a comment on the allegations that Uganda was involved with the rebel outfit or had met some of their leaders.
Mr Byaruhanga, in a message, said: “Those are baseless allegations. We believe those said confessions from Maj Sankara were as a result of extreme torture [and are] aimed at tarnishing our image among Rwandans. Those [confessions] are not true convictions of Maj Sankara.”
Mr Byaruhanga said Maj Sankara was kidnapped, not arrested, and that he would not get justice. “There is neither justice nor rule of law in Rwanda. The judicial system is only used to serve the interests of RPF [ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front] and [president] Paul Kagame, hence given the circumstances of his kidnap and the nature in which he was held incommunicado, we don’t expect any justice for him. All proceedings/pleas are only a result of extreme torture, hence not true convictions of Maj Sankara.”
In the tweet quoted above, Rwanda minister Nduhungirehe cynically quips whether the meeting he alleges to have happened between Brig Kandiho and rebel leader Maj Sankara was “by accident”.
Here, he was referring to a letter by President Museveni to Mr Kagame, dated March 10, in which the President stated: “… I am writing to let you know that by accident, I, at last, had a meeting with a Rwandan who admitted to being a member of the group you told me about — Rwanda National Congress (RNC). This is a lady known as Mukankusi, whom, I am sure you know, but I had never met before.”
Mr Museveni’s letter was a response to claims by Rwanda that the Ugandan President had met the said woman and Rwandan dissident businessman Tribert Rujugiro, who are also accused of trying to destabilise Rwanda.
This is what Mr Museveni said had transpired in the meeting with Ms Mukankusi: “… She further told me that she had joined the RNC to resist Your Excellency’s government and she wanted us to support them. I told her that we could not support them because what was happening in Rwanda was an internal matter of Rwanda. I explained to her that the stand of the African Union is a scientific one and it is correct. Interfering in the internal affairs of sister countries is wrong because, first of all, outsiders cannot understand situations of sister countries well.”
On Rwanda’s request for Uganda to expel Mr Rujugiro and freeze his assets, Mr Museveni told Mr Kagame that Rwanda needed to pursue Mr Rujugiro through the Ugandan courts, prove a case of terrorism against him and get his properties frozen. Mr Rujugiro runs a tobacco business in Arua, and has investments in a number of other regional countries.
Sources say Mr Kagame has until now not responded to Mr Museveni’s letter.
Since the open fallout started, Mr Kagame has been more outspoken than Mr Museveni on the matter. He has at one point accused Uganda of listening to claims by Rwandan dissidents based in South Africa, and at another time vowed never to be brought to his knees by anyone, which was construed to be a message to Uganda. He has also urged Rwandans not to travel to Uganda because, he said, they faced arrest and incarceration there, among other things.
Last week, Mr Kagame concluded a three-day tour of the areas bordering Uganda and DR Congo, during which he advised Rwandans to cross and trade with the Congolese but not Uganda.
While in Burera District at Cyanika border post, one of the three crossing points between Rwanda and Uganda is located, he said there was no need for Rwandans to cross the border to get goods because Rwanda can provide them.
But days later, when he went to Rubavu District bordering the DRC, he encouraged them to trade more with communities across the border and seek trade partnerships.
“You have a very big market in DRC, and in towns like Goma. They also have a market here. You can cross the border and buy what you don’t have and they can also cross to buy what they don’t have,” he said.
On his part, Mr Museveni has been mainly silent on the matter, although at one time he boasted about the ‘big capacity’ that he said Uganda has to defend itself.
The restrained approach to this saga that Mr Museveni adopted has also been largely replicated by Ugandan officials, and when they have spoken out, they have been mostly measured and restrained.
At the start of the fallout, Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, used to go head-to-toe with Rwanda’s minister Nduhungirehe on twitter, rebutting the allegations made by the latter. Mr Opondo, however, has also since gone quiet and even when Mr Nduhungirehe made the latest allegations, there was no answer from Mr Opondo.
Uganda speaks out
Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, in a briefing to diplomats last week, said the standoff was being handled diplomatically.
“The government of Uganda has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to improve relations with Rwanda,” Mr Kutesa said.
He, however, said a number of Rwandan security operatives have been entering Uganda without following procedures that must be followed when entering the country. He said they had been apprehended and deported.
Mr Patrick Mugoya, the permanent secretary at the ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Sunday Monitor that efforts were being made to bring the feud to a close.
He said Mr Kutesa’s visit to Kigali during the 25th commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide was a good gesture on the side of Uganda.
“We are talking. Didn’t you see the minister visiting Kigali during the genocide anniversary? That shows we are talking and trying to end this issue,” he said.
On the border closure, Mr Mugoya said it is Rwanda’s call to reopen it or not, advising Ugandan companies that were exporting goods like cement, soap, cooking oil and steel products to Rwanda to look for alternative markets in the region in the meantime.
Rebels’ full response to the allegations
Sunday Monitor contacted Mr Deltus Byaruhanga, the commissioner for media and communication for MRCD/FLN, to comment on the allegations that Uganda was involved with the rebel outfit or had met some of their leaders and this was his response:
“1) We maintain that Maj Sankara was not arrested but kidnapped, hence details and explanations of the kidnap are still under investigations.
2) There is neither justice nor rule of law in Rwanda. [The] judicial system is only used to serve the interests of RPF and Paul Kagame, hence given the circumstances of his kidnap and the nature in which he was held incommunicado, we don’t expect any justice for him. All proceedings/pleas are only a result of extreme torture hence not true convictions of Maj Sankara.
3) Rwanda is in a socio-economic crisis, poverty is rife, injustices, torture, extra-judicial killings, regime brutality towards its citizens both inside and outside and other gross human rights abuses have became a normalcy – with such environment, it is only the dictator and those in his clique who are made to believe that the kidnap of Maj Sankara or any other FLN commander will make us stop our struggle, in fact, it is such acts of violence against innocent Rwandans that inspire us to fight more in order to shorten the sufferings of our people.
You can kidnap or kill one Sankara but a thousand of Sankaras are born.
3)MRCD/FLN is a politico-military organisation, with clear political and military objectives – let me emphasise that our struggle cannot be visualised or contextualised to an individual, rather it’s a struggle to give a voice to millions of Rwandans who have been silenced by the dictatorship in Rwanda. It is a struggle to restore the rule of law, to institutionalise democracy, foster genuine and true reconciliation among Rwandans.
We seek to solve the chronic refugee crisis by making sure that every voice of every Rwandan is heard and their rights respected, create a country that gives each citizen equal rights and opportunities-something RPF regime has failed.
We aim to re-establish brotherly relationships with our neighbouring countries based on mutual respect and national interests we used to enjoy-currently being undermined by Gen Paul Kagame.
Its a struggle to overpass tribal barriers and other apartheid-like systems that have been created by a clique of extremists at the helm of RPF with an aim of creating a divided nation for their own selfish interests.
Our wind of change brings together millions of Rwandans from all walks of life, both inside and outside Rwanda, both young and old, some born in exile to a common frontline in which we have to fight for a single objective of creating a fair and a just nation that equally serves the interests of all her citizens, hence the death or loss of one comrade can never stop this wind of change.
For instance, the recent kidnap of Maj Sankara has resulted in over a thousand young men and women joining our ranks with an aim of defending his cause.
It is important to reiterate our willingness to dialogue as the less costly way to achieve durable solutions to our country and once again we would like to request the EAC [East African Community], SADC [Southern African Development Community] and the international community to put diplomatic pressure on Gen Paul Kagame to dialogue with all guenuine political parties. Failure to do so is likely to result in a major humanitarian crisis.”
About the group. Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change/National Liberation Forces [MRCD/FLN] is led by Paul Rusesabagina, who is in exile in Europe. MRCD is the political arm, while FNL, which the arrested Maj Sankara spoke for, is the armed wing of the rebel movement.
FNL has been operating in Nyungwe, near the border with Burundi, since late last year. Mr Deltus Byaruhanga, the group’s spokesperson, said MRCD/FLN is a politico-military organisation, with clear political and military objectives.
He said they are struggling to give a voice to millions of Rwandans who have been silenced by the ‘dictatorship’ in Rwanda. He said they are struggling to restore the rule of law, to institutionalise democracy, foster genuine and true reconciliation among Rwandans.
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