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Rwanda to reopen Ugandan border, ending tense standoff

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Rwandan authorities announce they will reopen the border with Uganda, ending nearly three years of a stalemate that appeared to be hurting the economies of both countries and raising fears of armed hostilities

KAMPALA, Uganda — Rwandan authorities announced Friday morning they would reopen the border with Uganda, ending nearly three years of a stalemate that appeared to be hurting both countries’ economies and raising fears of armed hostilities.

The announcement came after a period of quiet diplomacy during which Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni dispatched envoys, including his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to negotiate with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame.

Kainerugaba, who commands Ugandan infantry forces, was in Rwanda on Saturday. Earlier this week, Museveni made key changes to his security apparatus, sacking the military intelligence chief who had been constantly criticized by Rwanda. This decision seems to have appeased Rwanda.

Rwanda first closed the busy Gatuna border crossing in February 2019. Subsequent talks brokered by Angola and Congo appeared to fail to resolve the dispute, forcing Uganda to negotiate privately with Rwanda.

The Rwandan government announces that the border will officially reopen on Monday. His statement said he remains committed to efforts to resolve outstanding issues and believes the announcement “will contribute positively to the rapid normalization of relations between the two countries.”

The development will bring cheers to Rwanda and Uganda after years of suffering for businesses that have lost markets and other opportunities. Uganda, deprived of a major market for its exports, seemed to lose more at the height of what it called an effective trade embargo.

The Rwandan government has also ordered its citizens not to travel to Uganda, saying that Rwandan citizens are not safe across the border. He also accused the Ugandan authorities of supporting rebels opposed to Kagame and demanded the expulsion from Uganda of the business interests of a Rwandan tycoon who criticizes Kagame. But Ugandan officials have filed a counter-charge accusing Rwandan state agents of operating illegally in Uganda, including in the alleged abductions of wanted Rwandan citizens from their homes.

Tensions between Rwanda and Uganda have raised fears of a possible armed conflict as Kagame and Museveni have made threatening remarks at public events. After Museveni warned that “those who try to destabilize our country do not know our capacity”, Kagame retorted that “no one can bring me to my knees”.

In the 1990s, the armies of Uganda and Rwanda went to war in eastern Congo when they supported rival rebel groups. Many parts of eastern Congo remain lawless, with armed groups still operating there. Some analysts fear that any tension between Uganda and Rwanda could lead to a proxy conflict in eastern Congo.

Kagame and Museveni, authoritarian leaders who have ruled their country for many years, have been increasingly at odds in recent years as Kagame, once an intelligence lieutenant for Museveni, asserts his authority at home and in the region.

Kagame, who grew up as a refugee in Uganda, was a Ugandan army major before leading the Ugandan-backed rebels that seized power in Rwanda at the end of the 1994 genocide.

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Ssuuna reported from Kigali, Rwanda.

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