KAMPALA, Rwanda (AP) — One Rwandan refugee is missing and another was almost taken from Uganda’s capital, officials said Thursday, in the latest case highlighting Rwanda’s uneasy relationship with exiles who have fled the country.
The two refugees once served on Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s security detail and are wanted by Rwanda.
One of the refugees, Innocent Kalisa, is missing and was likely abducted, said Douglas Asiimwe, a Ugandan government refugee protection official. A second refugee, Joel Mutabazi, was almost sent back to Rwanda this week before refugee officials intervened, he said.
Karen Ringuette, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Uganda, said Mutabazi’s case was one of some “very serious security incidents” involving refugees in Uganda. She said the UNCHR would soon send a letter of protest to Uganda’s government over Mutabazi’s case.
Mutabazi, a former Rwandan army lieutenant who had been under the watch of refugee workers because of a previous attempt on his life, was almost taken Tuesday by Ugandan police acting on an Interpol notice from Rwanda, said Asiimwe, who works in the office of the prime minister. The other refugee, Kalisa, “disappeared and we don’t know where he is,” he said.
Musa Ecweru, a Ugandan government minister who is in charge of refugees, said the matter was “delicate” because it involved a foreign government. But Mutabazi “is now safe,” he said.
The two cases add to a growing list of Rwandan exiles who say they are afraid to return home because they could be jailed or killed by the government they once served, charges often denied by Rwandan officials who insist those who flee their own country tend to have a criminal record.
Rwandan police confirmed in a statement that they had asked Ugandan authorities to arrest Mutabazi. “Our counterparts in the Uganda Police had legitimate grounds to arrest Mutabazi on the basis of a valid Interpol request and to initiate his extradition to Rwanda in keeping with their international obligations,” the statement said.
Although the Interpol notice said Mutabazi was a criminal wanted in Rwanda the Rwandan had lived in Uganda since 2011 and was known to refugee workers who believed he deserved special protection because of a previous attempt on his life.
“This was not a criminal,” Asiimwe said, referring to Mutabazi. “Why do they want to criminalize him at this stage? If we hadn’t arrived in time they were going to take him.”
A Ugandan police spokesman, Patrick Onyango, said Rwanda on Aug. 14 sent a formal request for the arrest and extradition of Mutabazi, who is accused of robbing a bank in Kigali in September 2011. He called it a routine Interpol request.
Maria Burnett, a senior Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch, said her group is “very concerned” for the safety of Rwandan asylum-seekers and refugees in Uganda. She said the Rwandans are “frequently threatened and there have been several other reports of abductions and attempted abductions.”
Despite a positive economic outlook that has made Rwanda a favorite of foreign investors since the country’s 1994 genocide, Kagame’s government retains a fearsome reputation in the eyes of exiles who once worked for it. Many accuse Kagame of restricting the political space available for the opposition and of harassing independent-minded critics.
Many journalists and former civilian and military officials have fled Rwanda, alleging persecution. In the most prominent case, Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a Rwandan army chief who once was a close Kagame ally, defected to South Africa in 2010 and later accused Rwanda’s government of ordering a failed attempt to assassinate him. Rwanda denied the allegations.
Mutabazi once was a member of Kagame’s security team and is one of about eight Rwandan ex-servicemen who have defected to Uganda over safety concerns back home. At least two of them recently contacted The Associated Press over their fears, saying they were being hunted down by Rwandan agents sent to kill or capture them.