Burundi has announced the closure of its border with Rwanda, a move fueled by accusations against its neighbor of supporting rebels responsible for attacks on Burundian soil. The closure comes almost two weeks after the RED-Tabara group allegedly staged an attack near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, resulting in the deaths of 20 individuals, including women and children.
President Evariste Ndayishimiye has directly accused Rwanda of backing the rebels, a claim vehemently denied by the Rwandan government. The RED-Tabara group, based in the eastern DRC province of South Kivu since 2011, is considered the most active among Burundi’s rebel forces, comprising an estimated 500 to 800 fighters.
Burundi’s Interior Minister, Martin Niteretse, declared the border closure, emphasizing the decision to sever relations with Rwanda until there is a change in sentiment. Niteretse accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame of harboring criminals detrimental to Burundians, expressing a sentiment of hostility towards Rwandan nationals.
Rwanda responded by expressing regret over the unilateral border closure, warning that it would impede the free movement of people and goods between the two countries, violating principles of regional cooperation and East Africa Community integration.
The strained relations between Burundi and Rwanda, marked by periods of tension and intermittent reconciliation, have once again soured, particularly concerning Burundi’s engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although relations had briefly improved under President Ndayishimiye’s leadership in 2020, recent developments have led to renewed acrimony.
Burundi’s involvement in joint operations with Congolese forces against rebels in the eastern DRC has exacerbated the tensions. Accusations that Rwanda supports the M23 rebellion in the DRC further strain diplomatic ties, despite Rwanda’s denial of such allegations.
The RED-Tabara group, accused of violence in Burundi since 2015, had been relatively inactive since September 2021. However, it claimed responsibility for the recent attack near the border with the DRC. The rebel group denied any external support, asserting that it only enjoys the backing of the Burundian people.