April 26, 2017 / 2:10 PM / 3 years ago

Burundi stops World Food Program convoy from entering country

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Burundi has blocked a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy originating in Rwanda from entering the country, citing security concerns, the WFP said on Wednesday.

The WFP denied its 10-truck convoy posed a security risk, saying it was carrying food for Congolese refugees in Burundi among others.

The neighboring African states fell out after Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in April 2015, with Burundi accusing Rwanda of interfering in its political affairs.

Burundian government forces have clashed with protesters and rebels who say the president violated the constitution by standing for the third term.

Burundi has also accused its neighbor of hosting armed groups seeking to destabilize Nkurunziza’s government and seize power, causing friction that interfered with cross-border trade.

Pierre Nkurikiye, spokesman for Burundi’s police, said the WFP convoy was stopped at the Gisenyi border point last Friday for security reasons. He did not give further details.

Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for the WFP, rejected Nkurikiye’s security claims, saying the WFP was a neutral agency that offered food assistance where it is required.

“It was a regular shipment of food from Rwanda into Burundi, where it would have fed some 112,000 people including Congolese refugees and other food insecure people,” Smerdon told Reuters.

The convoy turned back on Tuesday and it arrived in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Wednesday morning, he said.

Smerdon said the 300 metric tonnes of food in the convoy had been bought by the agency from one of their regular Rwandan suppliers.

“We explained the food was not a contribution from the Rwandan government but was being bought by the WFP from a Rwandan supplier in line with previous practice,” he said, adding the shipments had been happening regularly.

Burundi has not experienced the sort of food shortages faced by other nearby states like South Sudan, but there were pockets of need such as among the refugees drawn from the conflict in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, which require assistance from the WFP.

Reporting by Duncan Miriri

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