Rwanda rejects Burundi meddling accusations

Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo speaks at a press briefing in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on March 26, 2011 (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

Kigali (AFP) - Rwanda has dismissed accusations it is meddling in neighbouring Burundi's political crisis, with Kigali's foreign minister saying Rwanda only wants peace.

"Burundi's problem is not Rwanda, Burundi's problem is Burundi," Louise Mushikiwabo told reporters in Kigali late Thursday. "We believe, as leadership, that when leaders take decisions they should be able to live with the consequences of the decisions."

Burundi, where a 13-year civil war ended in 2006, has been rocked by violence since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched his now successful but highly controversial bid for a third term in power.

Relations between Rwanda and Burundi grew tense after Rwandan President Paul Kagame urged Nkurunziza to end his bid for a third term.

"Our wish is for Burundi to be peaceful, for those who've sought refuge in Rwanda to repatriate, and for the region to advance," Mushikiwabo added.

The Rwandan capital Kigali has become a refuge for many opposition and civil society activists -- as well as dissidents from Nkurunziza's ruling party.

Burundi however goes a step further, claiming that rebel forces -- set up by mutinous soldiers after a failed coup in May -- are also there and enjoying Rwandan support.

But Kigali said it does not want to be drawn into the accusations.

"We are not in the logic of exchanging accusations and denials," Mushikiwabo said.

"It's not that we've kept quiet, we want them (Burundians) to solve their own problems, and after we shall talk about our relations," she added.

Tightly-controlled Rwanda -- which has a similar ethnic makeup to Burundi -- is seen as a safe place for those who oppose the government in Bujumbura.

The people of Rwanda and Burundi have close ties, and have taken turns sheltering in their neighbour when trouble has spiked, including during Rwanda's 1994 genocide and Burundi's 1993-2006 civil war. Rwanda now hosts over 70,000 refugees from Burundi.

"Refugees are highly politicised, and what we're trying to avoid is that the problems and tensions that exist at the level of Burundi, are transferred on Rwandan territory," Mushikiwabo said.

Earlier this month the African Union said it was launching an investigation into rights abuses in Burundi and called for targeted sanctions to be imposed.

Mushikiwabo dismissed suggestions Rwanda would send in troops.

"I don't know what was expected of Rwanda; to send our army to Burundi?" the New Times newspaper reported Mushikiwabo as saying.

"We can't do that. We hope and want Burundi to get back on track quickly. There are issues that Rwanda will raise with Burundi but not now."