Laurencia Mukagatera, a resident of Tabagwe Sector, Nyagatare District, has accused the Ugandan army of abducting her only child in September last year.
The distraught mother told officials and residents at a local meeting near the Ugandan border yesterday that her son, Maniriho, was seized along with six others from the border area.
“It all started when my son went to visit our relatives in Bweye (in Rwempasha),” she recalled. “Since the area is so close to the border with Uganda, he and other children were sent to buy something from across the border and that’s the last we heard of them,” she said.
Residents along porous border crossings in this region historically move from one side of the border to the other with much ease, even for small reasons. Some families have loved ones on either side of the border.
Mukagatare, aged about 50, said her son was turning 18 when he went missing.
Eastern Province governor Fred Mufulukye addresses residents of Tabagwe Sector in Nyagatare District on Monday. He urged residents against crossing to Uganda, with hundreds of Rwandans having been arrested and tortured by Ugandan security forces. Jean de Dieu Nsabimana.
“I do not know where he is until now,” she said, struggling to hold back tears. “I live with unbearable sorrow, he was my only child,” she later told the media.
She said as she frantically tried to establish her son’s whereabouts she ended up at a border point where officials told her that her son and his peers had been taken away by Ugandan military.
“I heard that they were taken by Ugandan soldiers in a patrol car,” she narrated.
RDF area commander Col. Albert Rugambwa addressing residents including taxi moto operators in Nyagatare town. Jean de Dieu Nsabimana
Mukagatare stood up from the audience to share her ordeal during an interaction between the residents and Eastern Province governor Fred Mufurukye.
“I have risen up to share my ordeal,” she told the gathering. “I am a direct victim of Uganda’s actions because my only child was abducted by Ugandan soldiers.”
She warned residents against crossing over to the northern neighbour until ongoing arrests and mistreatment of Rwandans by Ugandan authorities have come to an end.
Her son is one of the over 100 Rwandans that Kigali says are languishing in several ungazetted prisons – especially military-run ‘safe houses’ – in different parts of Uganda.
Aline Batamuriza called for more security presence at the main illegal border crossings to ensure people do not continue to risk their lives. Jean de Dieu Nsabimana
The situation has strained relations between the two countries, with Kigali issuing a travel advisory in March, warning Rwandans against traveling to Uganda in the wake of continued harassment, illegal arrests, torture and irregular deportations of innocent Rwanda.
Uganda has rejected the accusations, claiming those arrested were involved in criminal activities. But Kigali has challenged this narrative, saying most of those arrested are held incommunicado for years and are never formally charged before court.
They are also denied consular services, Rwanda says.
The latest incident is what the Rwandan police called “abductions” on the Ugandan side of the border of two Rwandans, identified as Pierre Samvura and Eric Hategekimana, on Sunday.
The two men were seized some 1.5km inside Uganda during a party at a local church.
The duo had crossed through a porous border point to attend the baptism of a son of their mutual friend, a Ugandan identified as Silver Muhwezi, police said.
They had been invited to attend the baptism only to be picked up from Rwamatunguru Catholic Church during service.
During yesterday’s meeting in Tabagwe, residents pledged to steer away from illegal cross-border activity.
Aline Batamuriza, a Tabagwe resident, said that most residents on either side of the border normally use an illegal crossing, known as Ku Misave. She called on security organs to reinforce vigilance around the area, adding that locals should be prevented from crossing over to Uganda for their own safety.
Mufulukye, who was accompanied by security chiefs from the provincial level and a host of other local leaders, called the meeting following two separate incidents that involved residents in the area.
During the meeting, the governor and other officials told the residents that the Rwandan government can only guarantee their safety if they are within the territory of Rwanda.
He also called on the residents, to always observe the laws of the land.
Mufulukye alluded to another incident that took place on Friday when a man riding a motorcycle resisted orders by security officers to stop and instead turned violent, resulting into his shooting.
The man, who was suspected to have been smuggling into the country used apparel (Caguwa) from Uganda, decided to turn aggressive towards the security personnel, and received backing from a machete-wielding mob from across the border in Uganda, according to the Rwandan government.
As a result, the Rwandan national, identified as John Baptist Kyerengye, was shot dead in the ensuing fracas, along with a Ugandan identified as Alex Nyesiga, who was part of the attacking mob.
Police said the Ugandan mob later retreated carrying with them Kyerengye’s body, and Nyesiga, who died later.
Kyerengye’s body was handed over to Rwandan authorities at the Gatuna border post yesterday.
“When security personnel stop you and you refuse, you are risking your life…nobody knows what you might be carrying on your motorbike, you may be transporting what brings harm to the people,” Mufulukye warned Tabagwe residents.
He added: “You remember that a few years ago, we had issues of grenade detonations in Kigali and other areas, it took a lot of effort to end the problem, how do you think those grenades were sneaked into the country? Certainly not through the airport or any other official entry point but such illegal border crossings.”
Col. Albert Rugambwa, the Rwanda Defence Force Commander for Nyagatare, Gatsibo, Kayonza and Rwamagana districts, assured residents in the area of their security but asked them to play their part.
“All we request from you is to be cooperative, the rest we will handle,” he said.