Rwanda has reportedly destroyed all temporary bridges erected by Rwandans along Uganda’s borderlines in Katuna, Gatuna and Mukensiyoona in Katuna town council in an attempt to prevent Rwandan nationals from crossing to Uganda.
The development comes amid increased tension between Uganda and Rwanda. For the last one week, the Rwandan border at Gatuna in Kabale district and Chanika in Kisoro district have been closed, blocking entry of hundreds of cargo trucks transiting through the busiest crossing point to Kigali and several other destinations.
Rwanda government, instead advised cargo trucks to turn-back and use Mirama hill border in Ntungamo district a distance of about 100km away. Amid the chaos, Rwanda, through its minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Richard Sezibera barred Rwandans from crossing into Uganda, saying Rwanda couldn’t guarantee their safety. He also accused Uganda of harbouring dissidents planning to topple the Kagame administration.
Despite the directive, Rwandan nationals neighbouring the Ugandan border, continued to sneak into Uganda via the Katuna and the neighbouring porous borderlines. Since the borders closure, Rwandans have been crossing into Uganda via the Gatuna and Mukensiyoona river streams to buy especially food and medicine.
But Rwandan soldiers and police officers have now destroyed all the temporary bridges that were constructed along the streams. Our resident reporter says that now there are Rwandan police officers deployed at every footpath connecting the two countries. The police officers at the footpaths are supplemented by heavily armed soldiers who are keeping a watchful eye at the borderlines. Despite denials by Rwanda, Rwandan nationals and Ugandan locals have confirmed the unusual deployment of heavily armed soldiers along the borders.
John [other name withheld], a Rwandan national found at Mukensiyoona market after escaping from Byumba in Northern Province, Rwanda to buy food, says that all the temporary bridges at the streams separating the two countries have been destroyed and that the security personnel are whipping whoever attempted to cross into Uganda.
John said Rwanda’s continued blockade has left Rwandans stuck without food to eat, and that most Rwandans are totally unhappy about the current situation.
Deus [other name withheld], another Rwandan national says that he crossed into Uganda via Katuna on Tuesday to offer casual labour in return for food so he could feed his family, but on returning, he found all bridges destroyed. He says for now he decided to remain in Katuna in fear of being reprimanded for crossing to Uganda.
Jean a resident of Byumba in Rwanda says that the prevailing situation has forced him to cross back to Rwanda after witnessing from a distance how those who were caught crossing with food from Uganda got whipped by the security officers. He added that security officers poured paraffin into some of the food that had been bought by some of the residents.
Solange Mujawimana, a businesswoman dealing in agricultural produce is also stuck on the Ugandan side of the border. She says that although she used to buy foodstuffs from Uganda and sell them in Rwanda, her movements have now been restricted.
Katuna town council mayor Nelson Nshangabasheija says that tension is still mounting across the region. He adds that business at the border post has completely collapsed.
Speaking before parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda explained that Uganda is optimistic that the matter will be soon resolved.