Rwandan opposition groups have been rattled by the murder of Patrick Karegeya, former head of external intelligence, who was found dead in a Johannesburg hotel.
Mr Karegeya’s body was discovered on January 2 in his room at the Michelangelo Hotel; the police said he was suspected to have been strangled. A rope around his neck and a bloodied towel were found in the room.
Opposition groups in and outside the country have condemned the incident.
Lt Gen Faustin Nyamwasa, a founding member of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), Mr Karegeya’s party, who is also exile in South Africa, told the Associated Press, “We are not sure. It’s too early to say. We’re still busy piecing all the information together. I believe we should wait for the outcome of the police investigation before commenting on the matter,” Lt Gen Nyamwasa said.
He was a close friend of Mr Karegeya.
Lt Gen Nyamwasa was himself the target of an assassination attempt in South Africa in 2010.
The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda also condemned “in the strongest terms possible” the murder of the former Rwandan intelligence chief. Frank Habineza, the president of the recently registered party, said the killing of Karegeya has left the opposition in Rwanda shaken.
“We call upon the South African authorities to expedite investigations into this horrible murder and bring the culprits to Justice,” Mr Habineza said.
“We are concerned and shocked because our party has been in a similar situation before,” he said, in reference to Andre Rwisereka, the Green’s vice president, who was murdered in July 2010 and his body found decapitated in the southern town of Huye.
Mr Karegeya, who over the past six years was a strong critic of President Paul Kagame, fell out with the government in 2004, and was arrested and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for insubordination.
He fled Rwanda in 2007 for South Africa, where he was joined by Lt Gen Nyamwasa in 2010. In 2011, Mr Karegeya was stripped of the rank of colonel and sentenced to 20 years in prison by a military court on charges of deserting the army and threatening state security.
In 2010, Mr Karegeya and Lt Gen Nyamwasa joined forces with Theogene Rudasingwa and Gerald Gahima, all former high-ranking officials in the Rwandan government, to author Rwanda Briefing, a document detailing the shortcomings of President Kagame and his government.
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Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights group, said it has real concerns, given the pattern of attacks on Rwandan opposition figures over the years.
The group said risks to those outside Rwanda have already been demonstrated several times, with the attempted assassination of Lt Gen Nyamwasa, and attacks on government opponents and critics in Uganda.
The Rwandan government is yet to speak about the incident, which has been widely covered by global media. Calls to Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo went unanswered, while the President’s Office said it could not comment.
Rwandan High Commissioner to South Africa Vincent Karega is the only Rwandan official who has commented, saying that his government would have no interest in pursuing Mr Karegeya.
“Why now? Why not five years ago when he declared himself an enemy? I don’t think he was a bigger threat than he was five or six years ago,” Mr Karega said, adding that the government of South Africa should look into the matter.
Diplomatic ties at stake
Relations between Rwanda and South Africa were strained by the 2010 assassination attempt on Lt Gen Nyamwasa: The South African government said that Kigali’s hand could have been involved in the plot to shoot the exiled military man.
South Africa recalled its ambassador to Rwanda and an investigation into the assassination plot was launched.
Several suspects linked to Rwanda were arrested and a court case was opened.
Paul Ramakolo, the spokesperson of the South African Hawks, an elite criminal investigation department, said they will investigate the murder to its conclusion.