KIGALI, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Rwanda on Monday re-opened a border crossing with Uganda closed three years ago when the government accused Kampala of harassing its nationals and supporting dissidents bent on removing the government in Kigali.
In turn the government of President Yoweri Museveni accused Rwanda of conducting illegal espionage in Uganda, which suffered a huge drop in exports with the border closed.
Officials from both side hailed the reopening, allowing a resumption of trade and some people to move back and forth. But the comments of a Rwanda government spokesman to Rwandan television on Sunday signal the animosity still lingers.
Deputy government spokesman Alain Mukuralinda told Rwanda TV that although the border was re-opening, Uganda had not yet addressed all of Kigali’s grievances.
“It does not mean that cases of beatings, torture and deportations of Rwandan nationals are over. It does not mean that the people, based in Uganda, who want to destabilise Rwanda have stopped. We hope it is a good move towards stopping all that,” he said.
On Monday, government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo declined to comment on her deputy’s comments. Uganda’s government spokesman could not immediately be reached. Both sides have previously denied the allegations from each other.
“The Gatuna border is open. Currently trucks, Rwandan citizens, returning residents, are crossing to Rwanda,” Makolo told Reuters.
She said the two countries were working on anti-coronavirus health measures and that other categories of travellers would be allowed too once those measures were put in place.
Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, told Reuters: “We are very pleased that it (border) is finally open … so that the people in both countries can trade with each other.”
The border closure had choked off commerce on a major regional transport artery that funnels goods from the Indian Ocean seaport of Mombasa in Kenya through Uganda to Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
In the last two decades Uganda’s annual exports to Rwanda rose gradually to above $200 million but suddenly plunged sharply after the border closure in 2019. In 2020, at the peak of the hostilities during the closure, Uganda’s exports to Rwanda were under $2 million.
A Reuters witness at the border said there was little vehicular traffic crossing from either side on Monday. State-run Rwanda TV showed at least one bus crossing.
(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Alison Williams)