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Uganda, Rwanda agree extradition

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Rwanda and Uganda last week moved to improve their strained relations with the signing of an extradition treaty during the sixth annual meeting of the Joint Permanent Commission of the two countries held in Kampala.

But officials of the Makerere University-based Refugee Law Project said that while the treaty was needed to crack down on criminals who may elude the law by crossing borders, there was a risk of the states abusing it to get to their political opponents.

Zachary Lomo, the head of the project, told The EastAfrican, "The problem is that genuine asylum seekers and refugees may be caught up in this treaty because, in some instances, states act without allowing independent verification of cases before extradition."

He said that civil society in Rwanda and Uganda would have to be vigilant to ensure that the governments do not use the treaty against political opponents.

However, Sam Kutesa, Uganda's Foreign Affairs Minister, said the extradition law targets only those running away from justice and that due process would be followed in both Uganda and Rwanda before any extradition application is approved.

Since 2001, Uganda and Rwanda have welcomed political opponents each others' countries, contributing to the lukewarm relations between them. Some of these so-called dissidents have since been sent to third countries, mainly in Europe, in an endeavour supported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Kutesa said apart from the signing of the extradition treaty, discussions at the two-day meeting which ended last Friday, centred on social, economic, political and security issues and the formation of committees to improve co-operation in various areas.

Dr Charles Murigande, Rwanda's Foreign Affairs Minister, said: "We have reviewed how we have implemented the objectives we set for ourselves. We have identified some of the weaknesses and taken corrective measures."

Dr Murigande was the head of the delegation from Rwanda, which also met President Yoweri Museveni. Among the members of the delegation were the ministers for Local Government, Justice, Agriculture, Education, Internal Affairs, the Director of Security Services Dr Emmanuel Ndahiro, Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region Dr Richard Sezibera and the head of the police. A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting said the two countries agreed to harmonise actions in crop and animal diseases; and to intensify co-operation on immigration, security, police, justice and refugees.