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Rwanda to Relocate Burundian Refugees


FILE - Burundian refugee children stand in the mud near to tents holding hundreds of other refugees who have fled from Burundi, at the Gashora refugee camp, in the Bugesera district of Rwanda, April 21, 2015.

FILE - Burundian refugee children stand in the mud near to tents holding hundreds of other refugees who have fled from Burundi, at the Gashora refugee camp, in the Bugesera district of Rwanda, April 21, 2015.

The government of Rwanda says it is going to relocate refugees from Burundi to other countries, after accusations from U.S. diplomats that Rwandan officials are using the refugees to build political opposition to Burundi's president.

Rwanda made the announcement Friday, saying the government will immediately begin working with "partners in the international community" to plan the orderly relocation of Burundians who fled to Rwanda to escape political violence at home.

In a statement Friday, Rwanda said it "readily shoulders its obligations to protect and care for refugees," but also noted that "the long-term presence of refugees so close to their country of origin carries considerable risks for all involved."

However, the statement continued, no country has committed yet to helping shelter the refugees.

The statement follows accusations by the United States and the United Nations that Rwandan officials have been trying to influence the political opinions of Burundian refugees to build support for opponents of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza. Nkurunziza's announcement in April that he would run for re-election touched off the political violence that caused the refugees to flee.

On Wednesday, two senior U.S. diplomats Wednesday accused Rwanda of "destabilizing activities" in neighboring Burundi, where political violence has left hundreds dead.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke of her concerns to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She cited a number of reports from U.S. officials on the ground in Africa.

"We have raised these concerns with the Rwandan government and encouraged them to play a productive role and not to do anything that might further destabilize Burundi," Thomas-Greenfield told the senators.

Another top diplomat, the U.S. envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, Tom Perriello, said there are credible reports of Rwandan officials recruiting Burundi refugees in Rwandan camps to fight for the Burundi opposition. Perriello said children are among the refugees being trained to fight.

A U.N. panel made the same accusation last week. Rwandan President Paul Kagame dismissed it as "childish."

President Nkurunziza's successful campaign for a third term has inflamed the opposition. Nkurunziza says he was eligible to run for a third term because he was appointed, rather than elected, to his first term in office. But the opposition says a third term violates the two-term limit for the presidency outlined in the constitution.

Despite the opposition, Nkurunziza was reelected and sworn in last August.

Political violence in Burundi has now killed more than 400 people and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing the country for their lives - many of them, to Rwanda.

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