The United States on Wednesday accused Rwanda of trying to destabilise troubled Burundi by recruiting refugees for armed attacks on the government.
The American concerns were raised in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by two senior diplomats, who cited reports from colleagues in the field that point to Rwandan involvement in the Burundi crisis.
“There are credible reports of recruitment of Burundian refugees out of camps in Rwanda to participate in armed attacks by Burundian armed opposition against the Burundian government,” said Thomas Perriello, US envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said: “We have seen a number of reports from our colleagues in the field that suggest the Rwandan government has been involved in destabilizing activities in Burundi.”
It is the first time the United States has publicly accused the government in Kigali of involvement in the crisis in neighbouring Burundi.
The United States historically has been an ally of Rwanda, but relations between the two have chilled in recent years.
Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April to run for a third term, which he went on to win.
Opponents say he has violated the constitution and a peace deal that ended the country’s 16-year civil war, which limits presidents to two terms.
More than 400 people have died and at least 230,000 have fled the country.
The United Nations has warned Burundi risks sliding into civil war and African leaders have promised to try to prevent a repeat of the genocide that swept Rwanda in 1994.
Relations between Rwanda and Burundi are at a low point, with Bujumbura accusing Kigali of supporting its opponents and serving as a rear base for a nascent insurgency.
Rwanda rejects the accusations
A UN panel reported last week that Burundian refugees had been recruited at a refugee camp in eastern Rwanda in May and June 2015, and given two months of military training.
The refugees said their “ultimate goal” was to remove Mr Nkurunziza from power, according to the report.
Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, has dismissed the accusations as “childish”.