Rwanda has rejected a claim by police in neighbouring Burundi that they had detained a Rwandan soldier there who was on a mission to “destabilise” Burundi.
Burundi police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said last Saturday they had arrested a Rwandan man close to the border with Tanzania, about 250 km from the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, whose aim was to destabilise the central African country.
Rwandan government officials said on Thursday they had managed to track down the man’s family, who confirmed he was not a soldier and described him instead as a “thug”.
Brigadier General Joseph Nzabamwita, spokesman for the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), said earlier this week no soldiers were missing from the force and the man’s name was not in its files.
“The accusations are childish, ridiculous and lack credibility,” Nzabamwita told Reuters. “This soldier does not exist.”
Burundi has been in turmoil since last April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term, sparking weeks of street protests. Rights groups have warned the country could be slipping toward civil war.
More than 400 people have been killed since then, including in the aftermath of a coup attempt in May. Opposition parties say Nkurunziza’s election bid, which he went on to win, was unconstitutional.
Burundi accused Rwanda in December of supporting a rebel group that was recruiting Burundian refugees on Rwandan soil, a charge dismissed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
A confidential report to the UN Security Council accuses Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with the aim of ousting Nkurunziza.
Burundi and Rwanda have the same ethnic mix, about 85% Hutus and 15% Tutsis. A 12-year civil war in Burundi, which ended in 2005, pitted a Tutsi-led army against Hutu rebel groups.