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Ofwono Opondo, Rwandan minister in Twitter exchange over detained citizens

Ofwono Opondo 'flees' Twitter exchange with Rwandan minister Olivier Nduhungirehe

DIPLOMACY | Uganda government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo takes no prisoners and is renowned for soaking his gloves in mud so his punches leave indelible marks. But on Friday, he simply vanished when his challenge was met with a square pass.

Opondo is one of the most active Ugandans on Twitter and on Friday, the Uganda Media Centre — where he is also the executive director — tweeted quoting him as saying there was no witch hunt for Rwandese in Uganda.

He was briefing the nation about the heightening of tension at the Uganda-Rwanda borders, with the latest allegations that Rwanda had closed all its borders with Uganda. Rwanda denies the allegations, with foreign affairs minister Richard Sezibera they had only closed parts of the border due to ongoing construction works at a major road.

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“As explained to many journalists, all Rwanda’s borders are open. Trucks and heavy vehicles are advised to use Kagitumba due to ongoing construction at Gatuna,” Amb Sezibera said.

But in his briefing, Opondo said that all vehicles coming from Rwanda enter well into Uganda but that the government was aware of difficulties on the Rwandan side.

“Rwandese aren’t being allowed to travel and enter Uganda but Ugandan nationals are. What is being stopped are only vehicles because of the blockage,” he said.

Sezibera, however, left little to doubts that his government was diplomatically armed and restricting movement of its nationals across the borders with Uganda, saying “Rwandans are strongly advised not to travel to Uganda due to ongoing arrests, harassment and torture.”

But Opondo said there was nobody from Rwanda being held by the Ugandan authorities for any reason.

“We would like to send a clear message to Rwanda that there’s no one Uganda is harassing from Rwanda or has in custody,” Opondo said.

Among those who responded was Rwanda’s Twitter-roving deputy foreign affairs minister Olivier Nduhungirehe — the official who has been actively engaging in diplomatic spats on social media.

Amb. Nduhungirehe had in January when the government deported former MTN Uganda general manager for sales and distribution Annie Tabura accused Uganda of backing and training Rwanda National Congress rebels led by dissident General Kanyumba Nyamwasa.

He shot down Opondo’s refutation of allegations that Ugandan security was holding Rwandan citizens, calling it “factually and demonstrably” incorrect.

“There are more than 40 Rwandan citizens languishing in cells of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and more than 800 Rwandans who were deported from or refused entry to Uganda since January 2018,” Nduhungirehe said.

At this, Opondo replied dropping a challenge for the Rwandan minister to provide details of the alleged detained Rwandans. The usually no nonsense Opondo apparently has diplomatic lapel to use in public and was not like the character Ugandans see on Frontline TV talk show or listen to on Capital Gang.

“Thanks Minister, you would do your audience greater favour by providing details of the detained by name, ID and passport numbers and locations from where they were picked,” he said.

Amb Nduhungirehe did just that, responding with an attachment that captured some details — although not everything Opondo had demanded.

“We did already and our countless notes verbales remain unanswered. You can start by the list below and contact our High Commissioner in Kampala for further information. The families of the detained are getting worried about the fate of their loved ones,” he said.

The attachment provided lists 20 Rwandan citizens allegedly held at different facilities in Uganda. It shows the dates they were detained, how long they have been in custody and specifics of jurisdiction holding them.

Rene Rutagungira, the Rwandan government alleges, was arrested on August 5, 2017, and held incommunicado for 120 days before being produced at the military court in Makindye.

They said at least eight of their citizens have been held at CMI for no less than a month each, with another eight listed as being detained at unknown location in the south-western border district of Kisoro.

Cyanika, the common border at Kisoro, is one of the affected entry-exit points that is said to be experiencing intense screening of movement of persons, with Rwandan citizens in particular restricted from crossing into Uganda.

Earlier in the day, Rwandan officials announced that CMI had freed two of the alleged detainees Donnie Kayibanda and another whose identity had not yet been established. The two reportedly arrived in Rwanda on Friday morning.

Opondo did not reply any further to Nduhungirehe but told a persistent Twitterati that the listed Rwandan nationals had all been charged in courts of law in Uganda.

“They [Rwandas] are at liberty to challenge the charge and jurisdiction of the courts,” he added with a laughter emoji without providing the specifics of the said court sittings.

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