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Barred Food Trucks for Burundi Return to Rwandan Capital

FILE - A worker takes a lunch break while sitting amongst the stack of food aid, at the U.N. World Food Program warehouse in Mombasa, Kenya, Dec. 3, 2008.

Ten trucks carrying much-needed food for Burundi are back in Rwanda's capital after authorities denied entry at the border, citing security concerns.

The World Food Program in Burundi says the trucks, carrying 300 tons of beans to feed Congolese refugees and other WFP recipients, were stopped at the border last Friday and returned Tuesday to the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye defended the decision to deny entry, saying Rwanda has been the source of crime and "insecurity" for Burundi since 2015.

"If today, there are objects or people coming from the same area, we must take every necessary measure to protect the population," he told VOA's Central Africa Service.

Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for and won a controversial third term in 2015. Low crop yields and high food prices have made hundreds of thousands dependent on international food aid.

The head of WFP in Burundi, Nicole Jacquet, says the hardship prompted the agency to buy food in Rwanda, where more goods could be purchased at lower cost.

She told VOA that if Burundian officials will not let food enter the country through Rwanda, the trucks will have to drive south and enter through Tanzania. She said the detour will cost the agency $35,000.

"This is a huge amount of money," she said. "Our objective is to spend less money and provide more goods to the beneficiaries."

Jacquet said WFP is seeking clarification from Burundian officials on whether the route through Rwanda is permanently closed.

"If we have to buy less food, with higher costs, we penalize beneficiaries who are the most vulnerable people in Burundi at this moment," she said.