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Kagame visit defuses Uganda Rwanda tension

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TIMOTHY KALYEGIRA
Special Correspondent

Last week, President Kagame paid a private visit to Uganda, presumably as a move to ease diplomatic tension between the two countries.

Tensions between Rwanda and Uganda came to a head on June 2, at the Uganda-Rwanda border post at Katuna, when President Yoweri Museveni's motorcade, travelling to the Rwandan capital Kigali for a Comesa function, was stopped, had a longer than usual security check and several escort vehicles were refused entry by Rwandan security.

The Ugandan security agents were also only allowed to take with them six pistols as agreed, the rest of their weapons were not allowed into Rwanda.

This incident was a stark reminder that the relationship between Uganda and Rwanda is far from stable and is a cause for concern for the Great Lakes region in general. Since then, relations between the two countries have deteriorated.

Recent tension and diplomatic breaches between the two countries first came to the surface in the Congolese city of Kisangani in August 1999 and again in June 2000 when units of the Ugandan and Rwandan armies exchanged fire in what observers saw as a proxy war between President Museveni and Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

Sources contacted by The Monitor, The EastAfrican's sister newspaper in Kampala, said the Kagame visit was a result of pressure by Britain on both sides to defuse the growing tension.

This shows that, contrary to efforts by both governments to play down the border incident, it was serious enough to be considered a major diplomatic row.

During the early to mid-1980s, Museveni, then a Cabinet minister in Yusuf Lule's government, started a guerrilla war against the newly elected government of President Milton Obote. Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) made a point of recruiting heavily from among the Tutsi exiles in Uganda.

Among the Rwandan exiles were Fred Rwigyema and Kagame, who became part of the top leadership of the NRA, and would later form the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA).

The irony here is that what started out as an intimate politico-military alliance and personal relationship that led to the return to Rwandan Tutsis exiled since 1959, should lead, not to a warm and close partnership between two countries whose people shared history and blood ties, but rather one of the most complicated, suspicious and sensitive bilateral relationships in post cold-war history of Africa, second only to that of Eritrea and Ethiopia.