Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye has rejected an olive branch from his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, describing his neighbour’s offer to settle their differences and reset diplomatic ties as “hypocritical”.
Ndayishimiye, who was elected in May, did not mention Kagame by name in a speech delivered near the Rwandan border on Thursday, and published on the president’s Twitter account on Friday.
But it followed Kagame’s call last month for a “turnaround” in the long-strained relationship between Burundi and Rwanda, and for the two leaders to chart a less hostile course under Ndayishimiye.
“We do not want to have such relations with a country that uses malice, a hypocritical country, which claims to want to restore good relations with Burundi, while placing a thorn under our feet,” Ndayishimiye said in Busoni, near Burundi’s northern border with Rwanda.
He said Burundian refugees in Rwanda were “being held hostage”, and accused the government there of harbouring those behind a failed 2015 coup that plunged Burundi into violent chaos.
“If they really want to revive Burundi, let them hand these criminals over to us, so that we can judge them. Burundians will never be satisfied until those responsible for the 2015 crisis are punished,” said Ndayishimiye.
Burundi has long accused Rwanda of interfering in its affairs, and using refugee camps to train its enemies. Last week, in an open letter to Ndayishimiye, a group of Burundian refugees in Rwanda alleged they were being held against their will.
Rwanda, too, has accused Burundi of sheltering armed rebel groups using its territory as cover to stage attacks over the border against the country’s security forces.
Kagame, who has been in power since 1994, last month acknowledged long-running tensions between the east African nations.
“There have been problems… but the most important thing now is to look for solutions to end them,” Kagame said.
“This is the objective we want to achieve with the new leaders of Burundi, and if President Ndayishimiye and his collaborators also choose this path, we are ready to reach an agreement with them.”
Observers have described Ndayishimiye, a former general and ruling party figurehead, as more tolerant and open than Pierre Nkurunziza, his predecessor who ruled for 15 tumultuous years that saw Burundi isolated on the world stage.
But Ndayishimiye’s response to Kagame “shows once again that the regime’s hardliners hold the upper hand”, said one diplomat to AFP on condition of anonymity.