Kigali – Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused Burundi’s leaders of carrying out “massacres” on their people in his most critical speech yet of the crisis in the troubled neighbouring state.
“People die every day, corpses litter the streets… How can the leaders allow their population to be massacred from morning to night?” Kagame said, speaking in Kinyarwanda on Friday, in a speech heard by AFP on Sunday.
Relations between Rwanda and Burundi are tense, with Bujumbura accusing Kigali of backing those who oppose President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third term.
Kagame, speaking in Kigali during an awards ceremony, gave the speech before the end of a Burundi government deadline for civilians to surrender weapons, which has prompted international fears it will trigger further violence.
Burundi has been rocked by violence since April, raising fears it could slide back into conflict after its 1993-2006 civil war, when some 300 000 people died as rebels from the majority Hutu people clashed with an army dominated by the minority Tutsis.
The people of Rwanda and Burundi have close ties, and have taken turns sheltering in their neighbour when trouble has spiked, including during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, when at least 800 000 mainly Tutsi people were killed by extremist Hutu militias.
Kagame said the violence in Burundi reminded him “a little” of the horrors of 1994.
“They [Burundi] should learn from what happened here,” Kagame said.
Kagame also sharply criticised his counterpart Nkurunziza, an evangelical pastor who believe he rules by “divine” will, but who he said is now rarely seen and “hides” while Burundi is in crisis.
“Burundi’s leaders pride themselves on being men of God, some are even pastors,” Kagame said.
“But what God do they believe?… Is there somewhere in the Bible where leaders are called on to massacre their people?”
The Rwandan capital Kigali has become a refuge for many opposition and civil society activists — as well as dissidents from Nkurunziza’s ruling party.
Burundi however goes a step further, claiming that rebel forces – set up by mutinous soldiers after a failed coup in May – are also there and enjoying Rwandan support.
But Kagame said Burundi was responsible for its problems.
“It is the Burundians themselves who are responsible for their situation,” he said, warning of “bad leaders who harm their people.”