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Diplomatic spat with Rwanda intensified with border closure, amid escalating rhetoric and reports of troop build-up along border; crisis is part of three-way tussle involving DR Congo.
Burundi closed border with Rwanda amid escalating rhetoric. Interior Minister Martin Niteretse 11 Jan announced decision to suspend diplomatic relations and close all borders with Rwanda over Kigali’s alleged support for RED-Tabara rebels. Kigali immediately labelled move “unfortunate decision” that violates principles of East African Community (EAC) regional bloc, which 12 Jan called for “peaceful settlement” of dispute. SOS Médias Burundi 14 Jan reported arbitrary arrest of at least 38 Rwandan nationals in Mugina commune, and 58 others in Rugombo commune, both Cibitoke province, since 11 Jan; most of them were reportedly repatriated to Rwanda in following days. President Ndayishimiye 21 Jan said Rwandans are “prisoners of bad leaders”. Kigali next day denounced “inflammatory allegations aimed at sowing division among Rwandans”, and President Kagame 23 Jan vowed to “fight” to protect Rwanda. Gitega same day accused Rwanda of recruiting Burundian refugees in Rwanda to join RED-Tabara. In further sign of growing tension, SOS Médias Burundi 25 Jan reported increasing number of soldiers and ruling party youth wing (Imbonerakure) policing border with Rwanda (see Rwanda).
Authorities intensified clampdown on main opposition party. Interior ministry 17 Jan sent letter to main opposition party, National Council for Freedom (CNL) – whose activities are currently suspended due to govt-orchestrated internal dispute – accusing it of collaborating with terrorist organisation and threatening “consequences”. Move came after CNL 2 Jan co-signed letter sent by platform of civil society and political groups to guarantors of 2003 Arusha agreement, urging them to support agreement’s continued application.
In another important development. Former PM Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni 2 Jan reportedly lodged appeal after being sentenced late 2023 to life imprisonment on several charges including attempting to overthrow govt and threatening president’s life.
RED-Tabara rebels launched deadly attacks, dealing major blow to security forces and confirming group’s comeback in Burundi after lull in violence since 2021; Gitega accused Kigali of supporting rebellion.
Rebel group made comeback with several security forces and civilians killed. DR Congo (DRC)-based RED-Tabara rebels 10 Dec allegedly clashed with army in Bubanza province, killing three soldiers, and 22 Dec launched attack in Vugizo town near border with DR Congo; govt said raid left 19 civilians and one policeman dead, while RED-Tabara claimed nine military and one policeman killed, saying attack targeted Vugizo border post. Incidents come after RED-Tabara in Sept launched first attack on Burundian soil since 2021. Violence led to renewed tensions with Rwanda after months of improvement. President Ndayishimiye 29 Dec accused Kigali of funding and training rebel group, which Kigali immediately denied.
Allegations persisted of Burundian troops fighting Rwanda-backed M23 in DRC. Army 11 Dec reported “all” soldiers of Burundian contingent deployed in eastern DRC as part of East African Community regional force had returned to Burundi after force’s mandate ended. Army same day refused to comment on allegations that Burundian troops have been deployed to DR Congo as part of bilateral agreement between Kinshasa and Gitega, including various accounts of Burundian soldiers wearing Congolese army uniform and combatting Rwanda-backed M23 rebels.
In other important developments. Supreme Court 8 Dec sentenced former PM Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni to life imprisonment on several charges including attempting to overthrow govt and threatening president’s life; alleged violations by security forces during his time as security minister until 2020 were not investigated. Ahead of 2025 legislative elections and 2027 presidential election, Senate 6 Dec and National Assembly next day approved composition of electoral commission, with govt spokesman, Prosper Ntahorwamiye, as commission’s president.
Public prosecutors called for life imprisonment for former PM Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, while govt troops engaged in DR Congo faced challenges.
Trial of former PM Bunyoni over alleged coup attempt ended. Supreme Court trial of Bunyoni 9 Nov concluded, with public prosecutors seeking life imprisonment on multiple charges including undermining national security for allegedly plotting coup against President Ndayishimiye in 2022; prosecutors also requested 30 years in prison for Bunyoni’s six co-defendants. Since Bunyoni’s arrest in April, human rights groups have called in vain for full judicial investigation into abuses committed by security forces during his time as security minister from 2015 to 2020.
Soldiers abandoned positions in DR Congo under pressure from M23. Amid renewed offensive by M23 armed group in North Kivu province (see DR Congo), Congolese civil society said Burundian troops deployed as part of East African Community regional force 22 Nov left Kitshanga town (which straddles Masisi and Rutshuru territories) and Mweso city (Masisi territory); military denied leaving Kitshanga. Meanwhile, M23 rebels 7 Nov accused Burundian troops of collaborating with Congolese armed forces and allied armed groups, including anti-Kigali Hutu-led Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, in eastern DR Congo; Gitega denied claim, which could strain relations with Rwanda after period of improvement. Radio France Internationale 17 Nov reported Gitega deployed at least four battalions of soldiers to North Kivu as part of bilateral agreement with Kinshasa.
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