Rwanda Imposes Sanctions on Neighbor Burundi

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press Writer
KINYARU-HAUT, Rwanda (AP) - Rwanda severed air and road links Friday with Burundi, completing a circle of isolation around the central African country in an effort to force out military leaders who seized power last month.

Rwanda joined Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, who had already imposed sanctions, suspended air traffic and blocked shipments to and from Burundi. Zaire closed its border with Burundi in April because of disputes over rebels and refugees.

In Washington, the U.S. government advised American residents of Burundi to get out while the airport is still open. There are about 80 American missionaries and other private citizens in Burundi, where Maj. Pierre Buyoya seized power on July 25.

The ousted president, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, has taken sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura, the capital. The embassy remains open and at full staff, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said in issuing the travel advisory.

Rwanda's foreign minister, Anastase Gasana, said in a statement that the road and air blockade would continue until the military-led regime reinstates constitutional order and submits to a regional peace initiative.

"The government of Rwanda in accordance with other countries in the region will impose sanctions against Burundi with immediate effect," the statement said.

At the border Friday afternoon, dozens of vehicles and people waited on the Burundian side hoping to be allowed into Rwanda, but border guards allowed only Rwandan citizens across.

Burundian citizens in Rwanda were allowed to return home, but all commercial traffic was halted.

The border closing disrupted for about three hours efforts to repatriate thousands of Rwandan refugees who have been voluntarily leaving camps in northern Burundi.

Border guards were unsure whether to allow U.N. vehicles to return to Burundi to pick up more refugees, but were later instructed to allow the operation to continue.

"We brought about 7,000 back today, and the only reason we did not have more was because of the confusion at the border," said Simona Opitz of the International Organization for Migration, which is organizing the transfer.

Since the beginning of the month, more than 24,000 Rwandan refugees have returned from two years of exile in Burundi, where they fled to escape a slaughter by militant Hutus of more than half a million people, mostly Tutsis. A spokesman for the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees said the voluntary repatriation of the more than 40,000 refugees remaining in Burundi will continue through the weekend.

Although only Tanzania, Rwanda and Zaire directly border Burundi, Tanzania and Kenya are the most important players in the sanctions plan. About 80 percent of Burundi's imports and exports move through the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam. The other 20 percent use the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

But Rwanda's move has great symbolic importance because the Rwandan government, put in place by Tutsi rebels who overthrew a Hutu extremist government in July 1994, has strong ties with Tutsis in Burundi.

Ethiopia, which does not border Burundi, has cut air links.

Theoretically, Burundi could still send goods through Zambia via Lake Tanganyika, but the feasibility of such a plan was questionable.

Rwanda's decision to impose sanctions was made when Paul Kagame, the former Tutsi rebel leader, now defense minister and vice president, was out of the country. President Pasteur Bizimungu and Foreign Minister Gasana, both Hutus, are known to have supported the measure from the outset.