KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwanda will send Burundian refugees to other countries after the United States said that they were being recruited to fight for the Burundian opposition and threatened to destabilize the region.
Nearly quarter of a million people have fled violence in Burundi since April, with more than 70,000 seeking refuge in Rwanda, according to data from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.
Rwandan foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, said on Friday that Rwanda would immediately begin working with partners in the international community to relocate refugees from Burundi, but gave no further details.
“For Rwanda, the growing risks to our national security from the Burundian impasse and misunderstandings in our foreign relations are unacceptable,” she said in a statement.
The UNHCR Rwanda office said its representative had met Seraphine Mukantabana, minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, who said Rwanda would abide by international obligations to protect refugees, keep its borders open and not forcefully deport Burundian refugees.
“UNHCR has urged the government to make such clarifications publicly as soon as possible to prevent panic on the part of refugees in Rwanda, and to address the many questions which are raised by this morning’s statement,” it said in a statement.
Burundi was plunged into one of its worst crises since a civil war ended in 2005 after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided in April to run for a third term in office, a move that opponents said was against the constitution.
More than 400 people have been killed since then.
A confidential report to the U.N. Security Council accuses Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with the aim of ousting Nkurunziza.
The report cites accounts from several rebel fighters, who told monitors the training was done in a forest camp in Rwanda.
Burundi accused Rwanda in December of supporting a rebel group that was recruiting Burundian refugees on Rwandan soil, but Rwandan President Paul Kagame dismissed the allegations.
Burundi government spokesman, Philippe Nzobonariba, reiterated the government’s accusation in the camps, and welcomed the reports about Rwanda’s involvement in Burundi.
“That is why we ask them (Rwandan) stop recruiting youths but rather let them go back home,” he told Reuters by phone.
Burundi and Rwanda have the same ethnic mix, about 85 percent Hutus and 15 percent Tutsis. The 12-year civil war in Burundi pitted a Tutsi-led army against Hutu rebel groups.
Writing by James Macharia; Editing by George Obulutsa and Louise Ireland