March 31, 2016 / 1:53 PM / 2 years ago

Rwandan politician's death in Burundi jail fuels mutual suspicion

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A retired senior Rwandan politician has died in a Burundian jail where he was being held on suspicion of spying, both countries said on Thursday, adding to cross-border tensions that have increased dangerously in recent months.

Jacques Bihozagara, a former Rwandan ambassador to France and Belgium and an ex-government minister, died on Wednesday in a jail in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura where he had been held on espionage charges since December.

“We assume he had a hypertension, and plan to carry out an autopsy today to know reasons of his death,” Justice Ministry spokesman Elie Ntungwanayo said.

Rwanda called the death suspicious.

“Jacques Bihozagara is one of many Rwandans in Burundi who died violently or suspiciously in the past months,” said Rwandan Foreign Ministry official Eugene Ngoga.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said Bihozagara’s death highlighted concerns about reports of arbitrary arrests and torture in Burundi, and urged its government to allow monitors from the African Union and other organizations to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

Burundi has been in political turmoil since last April when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term, sparking street protests, a failed coup attempt and an exodus of refugees across the border to Rwanda.

Burundi, where Nkurunziza eventually won re-election, accuses Rwanda of supporting a rebel group recruiting members in the refugee camps with the aim of bringing down the Burundian government, an accusation dismissed by Rwanda.

Bihozagara was a frequent visitor to Burundi where he was said to have assets including property.

Additional reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali, and Washington Newsroom; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Sandra Maler

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