There is increased tension along the Uganda-Rwanda border of Katuna after Rwandan security officials shot two of their nationals who had allegedly crossed into Uganda to smuggle Irish Potatoes.
The Monday evening incident happened 300 meters away from the Ugandan border. One of the two victims was identified as Jean Pierre Havugimana, 28, a resident of Kabaya village in Northern Rwanda. The other person could not readily be identified by the time of filing this report.
The two had reportedly crossed into Uganda through a porous border at Rushaki in Karujanga, Katuna Town Council.
Kigezi region police spokesperson, Mr Elly Maate, said each of the victims was carrying 50 kilogrammes of Irish potatoes at the time they were shot at.
Havugimana fled back to Uganda. He was first admitted at Katuna Community Medical Clinic and later referred to Rushoroza Hospital in Kabale town for further treatment, while his colleague, was whisked away by Rwandan security officials.
“It is alleged that on Monday at Kabaya village about 300 meters inside Rwanda, a Rwanda police shot the victims after they were found carrying Irish potatoes weighing about 50 kilogrammes each from Uganda to Rwanda,” Mr Maate said.
Katuna Town Council Chairman Nelson Nshangabasheija said the shooting which lasted for about 30 minutes created fear among residents along the border.
Mr Nshangabbasheija further claimed that Rwandan nationals have continued to sneak into Uganda looking for food and other necessities after they waited for the border to open in vain.
Mr Franco Korinako, the Chairperson of Katuna Border Traders Association said the incident is an indication that even Ugandans are at risk as some Rwandan security operatives use shooting as an immediate option to people who illegally cross instead of arresting them.
Mr Korinako said that Rwandan nationals are forcing themselves to cross into Uganda in Katuna because it is a major source of food and many of them have relatives who live there. He said the border closure has completely suffocated business at the border.
This is not the first time that Rwandan soldiers are accused of shooting at suspected smugglers. On May 3, 2019, Rwandan soldiers shot Innocent Ndahimana, a resident of Nyakabungo Village in Rwanda, who was found smuggling beans to Uganda through Katuna border in Kabale District.
In May 2019, John Batista Kyerengye, a resident of Nkoma cell, Rwanda and Alex Nyesiga Atuheire, a resident of Nyakabungo village in Kamwezi Sub County in Rukiga District were shot dead by Rwandan security operatives at Hamisavu Trading Centre in Kiruhura village Kamwezi sub-county. The duo was killed during fights between the Rwandan soldiers and residents during the arrest of a suspected smuggler in Hamisavu trading centre.
Rwanda closed its borders with Uganda in February 2019 to purportedly expedite the construction of the single customs at Gatuna border. Rwanda advised truck drivers destined to Kigali to use Kagitumba border via Mirama Hills.
However, Rwandan officials including President Paul Kagame later accused Ugandan authorities of abducting its citizens and locking them up in ungazetted areas. Rwanda also accused Uganda of hosting and facilitating dissidents especially Rwanda National Congress-RNC and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda FDLR, which have declared war on the Kigali government.
As a result, Rwanda advised its citizens against travelling to Uganda, saying it could not guarantee their safety. Rwanda also deployed security officials and destroyed all temporary bridges to bar Rwandans from crossing to Uganda. Despite the border closure and warnings, Rwandans continue to cross to Uganda using porous borders to look for foodstuffs and goods.