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EAC Urges Restraint Amid Escalating Tensions Between Burundi and Rwanda

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Heightened tensions involving Rwanda and its neighboring countries have placed the East African Community (EAC) in a continual state of crisis. The regional inter-governmental body is now grappling with escalating unease between Burundi and Rwanda, prompting the EAC to call for restraint among its member states.

On Thursday, Burundi took a significant step by closing its border with Rwanda, nearly two weeks after accusing its neighbor of supporting the RED-Tabara rebel group. The rebel group has been held responsible for deadly attacks on Burundian soil. Burundi’s Interior Minister, Martin Niteretse, stated, “After having noted that we had a bad neighbor, (Rwandan President) Paul Kagame… we stopped all relations with him until he returns to better feelings.”

This move comes after a month of deteriorating relations between the two nations, triggered by Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s expression of outrage at Rwanda for allegedly “hosting and facilitating the Red Tabara rebels.” The Rwandan government, as well as RED-Tabara, rejected these claims.

In response to the escalating tensions, the EAC, on Friday, urged the use of the existing EAC Dispute Resolution Mechanism. The regional bloc emphasized the importance of fully respecting the integrity and sovereignty of partner states. EAC Secretary General Peter Mutuku Mathuk, in a statement published on Saturday, encouraged member states to deploy peaceful settlement of disputes, strictly observing the spirit of the treaty on peaceful co-existence and good neighborliness.

Mathuk further stated, “The Secretariat of the bloc, founded over two decades ago, is now closely working with the office of the chairperson of the summit of the EAC heads of state to provide the necessary facilitation towards peaceful resolution of any arising disputes amongst our partner states.”

Background: RED-Tabara has been accused of instigating deadly violence in Burundi since 2015, with its last reported activity in September 2021. Despite ties between Burundi and Rwanda improving after Ndayishimiye assumed power in 2020, tensions have resurfaced, particularly over Burundi’s involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Burundian forces have collaborated with their Congolese counterparts against rebels in the eastern DRC, a region plagued by numerous armed groups.

Burundi’s participation in an East African force deployed in November 2022 to quell DRC violence further strained relations. However, the Burundian soldiers withdrew earlier this month after Kinshasa refused to extend the mission’s mandate.