Talks between Rwanda and Uganda collapsed Friday night after the two sides failed to find common ground on what Kigali has described as ‘toxic issues’ that have poisoned relations between the two neighbours.
Long hours of discussions between the two countries at Speke Resort Conference Centre Munyonyo failed to yield any significant outcomes, with delegates even failing to issue a joint statement.
This was during the second meeting of the Ad Hoc Commission on the implementation of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding signed by Presidents Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on August 21.
The first round of talks had taken place in Kigali on September 16.
The talks hit a deadlock on particularly two issues: Rwanda’s position that Uganda continues to actively support anti-Kigali armed groups and to conduct arbitrary arrests and illegal detention of Rwandan nationals – both of which Uganda vehemently denies.
As a result, both delegations agreed to consult with their respective Heads of State on the way forward but offered no timeframe on when this should be done, or when and where to meet next.
“Since this Ad Hoc Commission is committed under the Luanda MoU signed by the Heads of State in the Quadripartite Summit (including Angola and DR Congo), we agreed that we’ll consult our Heads of State and agree on the way forward on different proposals that were put on the table, especially from the Rwandan side,” said Rwanda’s chief negotiator Olivier Nduhungirehe, Minister of State for East African Community affairs, during a briefing after the meeting.
In addition, Kigali also expressed concern over Uganda’s “hostile media propaganda” it says has increased over the last three months, contrary to what both sides committed to in their first meeting in September.
“We believe that those issues are important and are toxic in relations between Rwanda and Uganda, and hope that in the near future we could have good faith and goodwill to resolve them,” he said.
The head of the Ugandan negotiation team, Foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa, again denied that Uganda was supporting armed anti-Rwanda groups – despite testimonies to the contrary from several former militia leaders and fighters mostly arrested or captured on the battlefield in DR Congo.
Rwanda has particularly named three armed groups it says Uganda is actively involved with, including fugitive Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC, which Kigali says openly recruits and operates in Uganda, where it has also established a national committee, and is in the process of setting up grassroots structures.
RNC is blamed for a spate of grenade attacks that rocked Rwanda between 2010 and 2014, killing at least 17 people and wounding over 400 others.
The other groups cited include FDLR, an offshoot of the force that committed the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, and RUD-Urunana, which launched an incursion into Rwanda as recent as October killing at least 14 people in Kinigi, Musanze.
Rwanda says three of the assailants, including their leader, one Nshimiye, fled across the border to Uganda where they were received by the army, while incriminating physical evidence was also recovered from the attackers – including those captured.
Saturday Times understands that these cases were part of a litany of evidence Rwanda shared during the closed-door session to prove Uganda’s hand in efforts to destabilise it but Kutesa and his team remained adamant in their position.
“We have no reason whatsoever, Uganda will not try to subvert the Government of Rwanda, we have no reason, we have no benefit, we have no cause,” he later told the media Friday night at Munyonyo.
On the issue of Rwandan nationals whom Nduhungirehe said continue to be “arbitrarily arrested, illegally detained and tortured in this country”, Kutesa said they target “those who have committed crimes or are a threat to national security.”
“What we commit to is to try and use due process in handling them,” said the Ugandan minister, in reference to a question why Kampala was not prosecuting those it says have cases to answer.
He said that many have since been “deported” to Rwanda, itself a controversy since Rwanda has also questioned the manner in which some of those who have been released after lengthy detentions have been “dumped” at the border.
Nduhungirehe said that as many as 1438 Rwandan nationals have been dumped at the Rwandan border with Uganda since January 2018. Records show that up to 588 Rwandans were dumped at the border since January 2019, while at least 99 others were irregularly deported since the first Ad Hoc Commission meeting in September.
Asked about the existing advisory against travel to Uganda, Nduhungirehe said, “We should ask ourselves why we issued the advisory in the first place. Are the causes of the travel advisory now solved? The situation is still there.
“We are yet to agree on the situation of Rwandans still being arrested and tortured in Uganda, before this travel advisory we had spent I think more than a year working with our Ugandan counterparts on those individual situations of people arrested and illegally detained.
“So at some point, we had to take our responsibility to ensure that we request our people not to put themselves in harm’s way. We are still discussing this issue of Rwandans being arrested, the moment the situation is resolved the free movement of people will resume.
He said that by Uganda continuing to arbitrarily arrest Rwandans, it has effectively closed the border between the two countries.
“When businesspeople are systematically arrested and tortured we can’t say that this situation promotes trade…that is in a sense a kind of border closure.”
But Kutesa insisted Rwandans were safe in Uganda “as long as they were not involved in crime”.
“One of the issues that Uganda raised was infiltration of Uganda security agencies by Rwanda government and its people…and that is the reason why people are detained because we believe that they have been on an infiltration exercise but that one we shall continue to discuss and find ways around it.”
Extradition treaty, ‘more open talks’
“We believe that as members of East African Community and members of other trading organisations we should remove any obstacles to trade while dealing with the issue of safety of our citizens,” he said.
While the two sides remain far apart on most of the issues, however, they seem to be close to agreeing on an extradition treaty, with Nduhungirehe saying Kigali was currently reviewing Kampala’s amendments to the draft text.
Earlier Friday, heads of Angola and DR Congo delegations at the talks had appealed for an open, result-oriented dialogue in the spirit of Africa’s home-grown conflict-resolution mechanisms.
Despite a lack of breakthrough, Angola’s Minister for External Relations, Manuel Domingos Augusto, told Saturday Times, while there were still disagreements between the two sides “there is progress because we saw more openness in today’s meeting than during the first meeting in Kigali.”
He, however, declined to make further comment.
Manuel Domingos Augusto led the Angolan delegation, while DR Congo delegation was headed by Gilbert Kakonde Malambe, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Interior, Security and Customary Affairs.
Also on the Rwandan delegation were cabinet ministers Johnston Busingye (Justice), Patrick Nyamvumba (Internal Security) and Prof. Anastase Shyaka (Local Government), Secretary-General of National Security Services Joseph Nzabamwita, and Director General, Africa, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diyana Gitera.
Besides Kutesa, the Ugandan team included Minister of State for Internal Affairs Kania Mario Obiga, Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Amb. Patrick Mugoya. Others included Deputy Chief of Defence Staff Lt Gen Wilson Mbadi and head of Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence Brig-Gen Abel Kandiho.
The Rwandan delegation returned home on a chattered RwandAir flight in the wee hours of Saturday, having missed their 10p.m flight (9p.m Rwandan time) as talks dragged on for several more hours.Follow https://twitter.com/JMunyaneza