NYANZA, Rwanda (Reuters) - The last king of Rwanda, who died aged 80 in October in the United States after decades in exile, was buried in his ancestral home in the south of the African nation on Sunday.
His burial sparked a row in the royal family over whether he should have been interred in the country from which he fled after he was deposed in 1961.
Relatives of King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa have also rejected a declaration by a courtier last week that his successor should be the king’s nephew, who now lives in a modest house in England.
About 3,000 people gathered in white tents in Nyanza for the ceremony to lay the king to rest next to his predecessor and brother, King Rudahigwa. Some relatives wept over the coffin.
Rwanda’s Sports and Culture Minister Julienne Uwacu attended the service and said the government was saddened by his death. “The government will continue to support the remaining members of the royal family,” she added.
Some members of the family had said he should not be buried in Rwanda because he would not receive a funeral there to reflect his status. Some people from his home region said the government should have sent a more senior delegation, not just a minister.
“Someone who has been a king shouldn’t be treated like this,” said one man at the funeral, asking not to be named.
Rights groups accuse President Paul Kagame’s government of harsh suppression of dissent, a charge officials dismiss.
The former king served on the throne for just two years before Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962.
Kagame’s government had long said he could return but only as an ordinary citizen, a suggestion he rejected.
For years he ran a charity for refugees from Rwanda, a nation scarred by an ethnic genocide in 1994 that Kagame and his rebel force brought to a halt.
Last week, the king’s chief courtier announced in a message on Facebook that the title would pass to Emmanuel Bushayija, described in media reports as a naturalized Briton living in northwest England.
Family members, represented by the pastor and family friend who conducted Sunday’s funeral, said they opposed the proclamation. They have not said who they believe should be the heir.
Writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Andrew Roche