Rwanda has declared its borders secure days after a rebel group claimed responsibility for the recent attacks in Nyaruguru in the Southern Province bordering Burundi.
On July 16, the National Liberation Forces (NLF), an armed group of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (RMDC), which is an opposition grouping linked to Paul Rusesabagina, has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Nyabimata and Kivu Sectors in Nyaruguru District.
Mr Rusesabagina’s claim to fame is the film Hotel Rwanda, a Hollywood production based on his heroic saving of civilians hiding in the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Over the past couple of weeks, a gang armed with guns and machetes attacked villages in Nyabimata and Kivu Sectors in Nyaruguru District bordering the Nyungwe Forest, killing two people, kidnapping several others and injuring dozens, including a local leader.
The National Police said the group looted shops, burnt a vehicle belonging to a local official and forced some people to carry their loot.
“The gang stole livestock and foodstuff like beans, rice and Irish potatoes. They forced residents to carry the items, but released them following pressure from the army, which intervened immediately,” said a police statement.
The police said the gang came through the Nyungwe Forest from the Burundi side and fled in the same direction.
A similar attack had been reported in the same district two weeks earlier.
Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara, who claimed to be the second vice-president of RMDC and the NLF spokesperson, said that the group had launched an armed struggle against the Rwandan Patriotic Front government.
In an interview with the BBC Kinyarwanda Service on July 16, Sankara, who has previously been linked with the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), claimed that they had established bases inside Rwanda.
“The NLF will use all possible means, including armed struggle, to drive the RPF out of power, since it has refused all peaceful ways,” he said.
The government of Rwanda has however been hesitant to comment on the rebels, but The EastAfrican understands that the Rwanda Defence Force has deployed heavily along the border and inside Nyungwe Forest National Park, one of the country’s leading tourist attractions.
Rwanda National Police spokesman Theos Badege said that the country’s borders and all areas bordering the Nyungwe Forest are secure, adding that security personnel have sealed the routes used by “criminal gangs.”
He also pointed out that Sankara is a criminal wanted by Rwandan authorities. “His name features in many criminal files. Whatever he says makes it easy for us to continue pursuing him and make sure that he is brought in to answer to charges,” he added.
Sankara has been mentioned in a number of cases, including that of singer Kizito Mihigo, who was jailed in 2015 for for plotting to kill President Paul Kagame. He is accused of mobilising Rwandans in and outside the country to engage in “treasonous and subversive activities.”
Local Government Minister Francis Kaboneka, Inspector General of Police Emmanuel Gasana and high-ranking RDF officers visited the Southern Province and addressed residents.
Mr Gasana said that the government will not allow the attackers to strike again, and urged the residents to co-operate with security organs to fend off intruders.
Mr Kaboneka warned them against being used by “enemies of the state.”
“Don’t listen to them. We heard that some of you are misled by these characters, but we want you to work with security organs to protect the country,” he said.
A security source told The EastAfrican that there is a feeling that Burundi poses a security threat to Rwanda.
“Rwanda believes that Burundi can offer itself to negative groups seeking to destabilise Rwanda. Kigali can therefore not take any chances,” the source said.
Rwanda has in the past accused Burundi of harbouring elements of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) following the breakdown of diplomatic ties in 2015.
The Burundian government, on the other hand, accused Kigali of training and arming opposition groups planning to remove President Pierre Nkurunziza from power.
These accusations have led the two countries to nearly sever ties, despite maintaining diplomatic missions.
Two weeks ago, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of the East African Community Olivier Nduhungirehe said that Rwanda has no apology to offer Burundi.
“This is a gang that came from Burundi, which shows either the statelessness in that country, or a case of provocation,” the state minister said.
Mr Nduhungirehe was reacting to a question posted on social media, seeking to know why President Kagame cannot travel to Bujumbura and talk with President Nkuruziza for a peaceful resolution to the countries’ differences, the same way that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Mohamed went to Asmara and talked with his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Aferworki.
Although Rwanda has been largely peaceful for the past 24 years, it remains cautious, and considers Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo as possible sources of security threats.