Inmates in Gasabo prison in the Rwandan capital of Kigali are protesting living conditions at the facility.

They hurled stones over the prison’s walls, damaging nearby houses and disrupting traffic, residents and officials said on Monday.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

"Prisoners started rioting today but within one hour we managed to stop it," the Spokesman for the Rwanda prisons, Hillary Sengabo, said.

“Only tear gas was used. No bullets. Even if some of them might be in need of blankets or other utensils, rioting is not a solution.”

Riots are rare in Rwanda.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association has in the past described Rwanda as a nation where protests are not allowed.

"It was like 200 people throwing stones at the same time and when the riot police arrived, they kept throwing stones,’’ Henriette Uwase, who lives near the prison said.

"They were hurling stones over there and it looked like hundreds of stones being thrown.

"You can see it, the window and door glasses have been smashed," said another resident.

President Paul Kagame is widely admired for restoring stability to Rwanda after its 1994 genocide, presiding over rapid economic growth and creating a relatively corruption-free government.

Rights activists say those achievements have come at the expense of civil liberties.