A diplomatic dispute is simmering between Rwanda and Italy over the latter's reluctance to return a group of Rwandan children evacuated during the 1994 genocide.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has accused an Italian mayor of "contempt" over comments he made to the British 'Guardian' newspaper in explaining his refusal to send the children home.
According to a press release received by IRIN on Tuesday, Kagame told a news conference in Kigali he could not understand why parents and relatives "can be denied the right to these children because Rwanda is poor. Poverty is not a crime".
He was replying to comments by the mayor of Castenedolo in Italy, where 41 Rwandan children are living with adoptive parents, who stated that the proposal to return the children to their homes was "absolutely irresponsible". "You can't transfer children who have become accustomed to life in a western country to a country that has nothing," the mayor was quoted as saying.
Kagame responded angrily, stating this "represents the attitudes of contempt that have characterised relations between the north and the south". During the genocide, 59 children - now aged between six and 10 - were sent to Italy, Belgium and France. Kagame said Rwanda would be prepared to take legal action over the matter, adding that he had discussed the issue with the Italian authorities during his visit to the country last week.
He stressed that Rwanda was perfectly capable of looking after its orphans. "The government is paying school fees for orphaned children in their thousands," Kagame said. "We are looking after them, so care for the children should not be their [foreigners'] concern."
The Rome-based Catholic news agency, Zenit, said the issue of the Rwandan children was causing "disputes and diplomatic conflict" between Rwanda and Italy. However, there were also differences of opinion within Italy. According to Zenit, the Italian Centre for Assistance to Children said international adoptions should not take place during times of war because
the abandonment of the child could not be verified.
But Father Roberto Lombardi, an Italian priest who took part in the operation to give homes to the Rwandan children, said "no government authority can change the ruling of adoption". "We have not stolen those children," he said. "They are all orphans brought to Italy when they were very young to save them from the war. They have been raised here, they are perfectly integrated in their families and in our communities."
Italy has now set up a commission to look into the children's situation in order to respond to the Rwandan government. Judge Emma Avezzu of the Turin Court of Minors said the children were now Italian citizens and it would be "legally impossible" to intervene.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions