Denis Farrell, Associated Press
JOHANNESBURG — The body of Rwanda's former spy chief was found, possibly strangled, in a hotel in South Africa, police said Thursday. Rwandan dissidents accused President Paul Kagame of ordering his assassination.
The suspicious death of Patrick Karegeya, a former Kagame ally who turned against him, follows a pattern of assassinations ordered by the Rwandan president, said Theogene Rudasingwa of the opposition coalition Rwandan National Congress. Kagame's government vehemently denies it has targeted dissidents.
Karegeya's body was discovered in a room at Johannesburg's plush Michelangelo Towers hotel on New Year's Day, and many questions remain unanswered in a country with a high crime rate.
"He was found in the hotel room dead on the bed," said a statement from South African police spokeswoman Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale. "A towel with blood and a rope were found in the hotel room safe. There is a possibility that he might have been strangled." She said a murder investigation has been opened in the death of the 53-year-old who reportedly fled to South Africa in 2007.
Rwandan High Commissioner Vincent Karega told local broadcaster eNCA that talk of assassination is an "emotional reaction and opportunistic way of playing politics." He urged people to wait for a report from the South African police.
Gunmen twice tried to kill Kagame's former chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, while he was living in exile in Johannesburg in 2010. Nyamwasa told The Associated Press in 2012 that Kagame has hunted him and other dissidents around the world, "using hired killer squads."
Karegeya, the former Rwandan intelligence boss, said in a conversation on Nov. 30 with an AP journalist that he understood that his organizing of opposition to Kagame was risky and could cost him his life. Karegeya said his family was being persecuted: his daughter's Rwandan passport was revoked on Kagame's orders while she was trying to leave Uganda, where she grew up in exile, and his own quest for work with the United Nations had been obstructed by Kagame.
Kagame's spokesman and Rwanda's foreign minister could not be reached by telephone and did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.
Rwandan exiles from the president's Tutsi tribe say British, U.S. and Belgian law enforcers have frequently warned them that their government is plotting to kill them. Two British legislators called for Britain to review its relationship with Rwanda in 2011 when they said a Scotland Yard investigation led to the deportation of an alleged Rwandan assassin trying to enter Britain. Two Rwandan exiles said they received warnings from Scotland Yard that the Rwandan government posed an "imminent threat" to their lives.
Kagame's government issued a statement then saying, "Never does the government of Rwanda threaten the lives of its citizens, nor use violence against its people, wherever they live."
In 2012, Sweden and Belgium both deported Rwandan diplomats, Sweden for spying on Rwandan refugees, and Belgium for activities inconsistent with his diplomatic status.
Kagame has long been accused of extra-territorial killings, including ones committed when Karegeya was the feared boss of Rwanda's external security agency.
In 1996, former Interior Minister Seth Sendashonga and businessman Augustin Bugirimfura were gunned down in Nairobi, Kenya. Kenya detained a Rwandan diplomat briefly then released him under pressure from Kagame. Also in Nairobi, legislator and former government intelligence chief Theoneste Lizinde was assassinated in 1998. In 2000, presidential adviser Assiel Kabera was shot dead in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, reportedly by men in military uniform.
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