By IGNATIUS SSUUNA, KIGALI, Rwanda (AP):- Rwandan authorities on Monday opened the Uganda border to truckers after nearly three years of a tense standoff, but other travelers were held back by immigration officials.
In deciding to reopen the border, Rwanda warned in a statement Friday that “pending issues” must be resolved before relations can be normalized with Uganda.
Now Rwandan authorities say travel to Uganda via the land border is restricted to essential travelers until COVID-19 prevention measures are put in place. The decision has disappointed traders in Rwanda and Uganda who had hoped for a return to normal business.
Only truckers and Rwandan citizens or returning residents are permitted to cross from Uganda into Rwanda, Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said on Twitter.
“You cannot say that you have opened for the trucks alone and then you say you have opened the border. Some of us are even fully vaccinated, then why do you bar us?” said Rwandan trader Charles Mugabo.
Rwanda first closed the busy Gatuna border crossing in Feb. 2019, accusing Ugandan authorities of backing rebels opposed to Rwandan President Paul Kagame and demanding the expulsion from Uganda of the business interests of a Rwandan tycoon who is critical of Kagame.
Subsequent talks mediated by Angola and Congo appeared to fail to resolve the dispute, compelling Uganda to negotiate privately with Rwanda, which had ordered its citizens not to travel to Uganda.
But Ugandan officials made a counter-charge accusing Rwandan state agents of operating unlawfully in Uganda, including in the alleged abductions of Rwandan citizens wanted back home.
Friday’s announcement of plans to reopen the border came after a period of quiet diplomacy during which Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni dispatched envoys including his son to negotiate with Kagame.