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Rwanda and Uganda downplay reports of tension


NAIROBI (AFP) - The presidents of Uganda and Rwanda said they remain close allies at a weekend meeting clouded by rumours that Uganda has reached out to exiled Rwandan dissidents working against the Kigali regime.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda began a four-day visit to neighbouring Rwanda on Friday and met with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame upon arrival.

Before the trip, media in both countries reported that relations were strained over reports that Ugandan security operatives had met with two former senior Rwandan military officers who now oppose Kagame.

"Museveni is a friend and a brother to Rwanda," Kagame said Saturday alongside the Ugandan leader in Kigali, where the two visited a classroom construction project.

"I am happy, truly happy," Museveni countered in Swahili, after greeting residents in the Nyarugunga neighbourhood in the local Rwandan language.

The foreign ministers of both countries previously downplayed widespread reports of an ongoing diplomatic row.

"When people visit each other, it is not a sign that they are trying to solve some problems," Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa said Saturday on Rwandan radio.

"It is instead a sign that they are friends. People don’t normally visit each other when they are enemies."

In a statement, Rwanda Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said the two nations "enjoy strong and historical ties."

But, according to media reports, Rwanda has continued to voice displeasure over Uganda's contacts with former Rwandan general Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegeya, Kagame's former foreign intelligence chief.

The two men, now in exile, were both top Kagame allies but have since defected from his regime. They have founded an opposition party and branded Kagame a dictator.

Nyamwasa and Karegaya, like Kagame himself, have longstanding ties with Uganda's security services.

Most of the rebel fighters from Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front that captured power in Kigali in 1994 previously served in the Ugandan military.

Kagame served as a top intelligence officer in Museveni's military in the late 1980s, before returning to Rwanda to lead his own rebel group in the early 1990s.

Museveni strongly backed Kagame through Rwanda's 1990-1994 civil war.

But relations have frayed since, notably in 1999, when the two countries clashed in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a territory they occupied after the fall of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

© 2011 AFP

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