Tanzanians who live or travel to Rwanda should do so freely and comfortably with no fear of persecution, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo has emphasised amidst the ongoing expulsion of Rwandans from Western Tanzania.
Speaking at a news conference in Kigali on Thursday, the minister said that recent pronouncement of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete regarding negotiations with DRC-based FDLR militia, will not disrupt strong ties between Rwandans and Tanzanians.
“Not only are we neighbours, we have strong ties among our people, we have blood ties, we have business ties, and we have a lot that brings us together,” Mushikiwabo said, also taking the opportunity to welcome Tanzanians in Rwanda.
“They can live here for as long as they wish. We consider them our own people in the East African Community.
Mushikiwabo is also the government spokesperson.
The suggestion made by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in May this year that the Rwandan government negotiate with the FDLR sparked outrage in Rwanda.
The FDLR, whose French acronym means the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, is made up of members who are largely responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in which over a million people died in a three-month slaughter campaign.
The group, which the UN has also branded a terrorist organisation, has been involved in creating instability in eastern Congo. The group has been involved in a spate of attacks in Rwanda including a grenade attack last month that killed three people and injured dozens.
Mushikiwabo said that Rwanda’s policy towards the militia has always been clear and is not about to change, a statement she made several times at the news conference, urging whoever suggests that Rwanda should engage FDLR in negotiations to forget about it.
“When you are associated with genocide, you should be an enemy of everybody,” she said, also explaining that “there should be clarity about why Rwandans are unhappy” when it comes to any ideas that recommend talking to the FDLR.
Meanwhile, Mushikiwabo said that the government will receive and protect Rwandans who are being expelled from Tanzania based on claims that they are illegal immigrants. She noted that it was regrettable that Tanzania did not consult Rwanda before kicking them out.
“There was a decision made, we were not consulted and our obligation as a state and as a government is to offer protection to the people coming to us and that’s what we have been busy doing,” she said.
Rwandan families, including those who have lived in Tanzania since the 1950s, have for the past three days been arriving through Rusumo border after President Kikwete instructed local officials to give only two weeks to the so called “illegal” immigrants to leave the Kagera Region, which shares borders with Rwanda.
The New Times’ Bureau Chief in the Eastern Province, Stephen Rwembeho, said that some Tanzanians of Rwandan origin have also arrived in Rwanda after their citizenship and other residential documents were torn up and destroyed by local officials in Tanzania.
The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDMAR), in conjunction with Kirehe District authorities have begun preparations to settle the expelled Rwandans. By press time, nearly 300 had registered with Rwandan Immigration officials.
Extradition of M23 commanders
Updating journalists on how Rwanda is handling DRC’s request for the extradition of former M23 commanders who are on Rwandan territory, Mushikiwabo said that it is not unusual that there is a long process before decisions on extradition requests are made.
Rwanda has already requested the DRC government to send documents containing records of suspects, their charges and evidence against them, as well as legal references forming the basis of prosecution of each suspect.
The Congolese government has asked Rwanda to extradite the former political leader of M23 Jean-Marie Runiga and former military commanders Baudouin Ngaruye, Eric Badege and Innocent Zimurinda, so that they can face prosecution back home.
“It is a process. Don’t just think that Rwanda would immediately put someone on a plane and send them back upon receiving the request,” Mushikiwabo told reporters. She also pointed out that Rwanda does not extradite suspects to countries that have the death penalty.
The fighters crossed into the country in March to escape divisions in M23 group and are currently interned in a temporary facility as required by international laws applicable to persons who have fled armed conflicts.