Diplomatic row erupts

2014-03-09 14:01

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Security cluster given ‘irrefutable evidence’ that Rwandan hit squads were in SA again

A diplomatic war has broken out ­after South Africa’s security cluster of ministers was given “irrefutable evidence” that Rwanda President Paul Kagame had again sent his killers to this country.

A highly-placed source said the State Security Agency linked Rwandan diplomats in Pretoria to Tuesday’s attack on the Joburg safe house where Rwanda’s former army chief, General Kayumba Nyamwasa, is under ­witness protection.

The Rwandan embassy in Pretoria was this week described as nothing but an “intelligence base” for Kagame and the Rwandan military.

A highly placed source said President Jacob ­Zuma was briefed that Kagame and his intelligence chiefs were behind the attack.

City Press understands Zuma was furious when he heard the attack was not just aimed at Nyamwasa, but against state property and local police officers.

The security cluster has expelled three Rwandan diplomats and ordered their immediate departure.

One of the diplomats is believed to be the coordinator of a string of attacks against Rwandan dissidents living in South Africa.

In retaliation, Rwanda has expelled six South African diplomats from Kigali, bringing South ­Africa and Rwanda to the brink of severing diplomatic ties.

Department of international relations and ­cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela said government would not release the names of the six expelled diplomats for security reasons.

City Press reported in 2011 that some diplomats at the Rwandan embassy were complicit in attacks against Kagame’s political enemies.

Intelligence agents are sent to South Africa from Kigali to kill dissidents based in South Africa, and the embassy in Pretoria would provide them with money and logistical support. The Rwandans would provide intelligence and other information in diplomatic bags, which may not be searched.

Stephanie Wolters, a Great Lakes region expert from the Institute for Security Studies, said South Africa could no longer tolerate Kagame’s “outrageous” behaviour.

The drama unfolded on Tuesday at about midday when between six and eight gunmen, armed with AK-47s and pistols, accessed the safe house in Bruma, eastern Joburg, where Nyamwasa and his wife and daughter live.

Frank Ntwali, Nyamwasa’s brother-in-law and chairperson of the Rwanda National Congress in Africa, said it was “a miracle” he escaped death because he doesn’t work and rarely leaves home.

He said it was just a coincidence that Nyamwasa, his wife and two bodyguards went out shortly ­before the gunmen arrived. Their daughter was at school.

Ntwali himself was attacked and stabbed 12 times in 2012.

It is still unclear how the gunmen persuaded one of the police officers to open the steel gate. Once inside, they held the officers captive. The assailants took nothing except a PlayStation console, which they discarded in the garden.

David Batenga – one of Nyamwasa’s confidants and the nephew of former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, who was murdered on New Year’s Day in Sandton’s swish Michelangelo ­Hotel – said the general was hastily moved to another safe house.

This is the fourth attempt on Nyamwasa’s life since he came to South Africa in 2010. Shortly after his arrival, he was shot in the stomach.

He still has a bullet in his spine and has been in the witness protection programme ever since.

Rwandan intelligence agents and Tanzanian gunmen are still on trial for ­attempted murder and conspiracy to murder Nyamwasa.

Final arguments in the case will be heard this week.

In 2012, City Press reported that Rwandan intelligence had recruited a Rwandan refugee in Pretoria to kill Nyamwasa in his safe house in North West.

This week was the second time Rwandan intelligence foiled the South African witness protection programme.

Questions are now being asked about the programme’s security, but Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko said they did not want to “jump to conclusions” and they were approaching the investigation “with an open mind”.

Both Karegeya and Nyamwasa were once among Kagame’s closest confidants, but both had fallouts with him and fled to South Africa, where they were granted refugee status.

Karegeya and Nyamwasa were founding members of the Rwanda National Congress, a banned political movement intent on ousting Kagame.

After Karegeya’s murder, Kagame warned that those who undermine his country “usually face serious consequences, wherever they are”.

The Rwanda National Congress has long claimed that one of the diplomats at the embassy, Didier Rutembesa, masquerades as an envoy but is in fact a coordinator of the attacks in South Africa.

Batenga said the Rwandan embassy was a military base and an operations centre for planning missions to kill civilians.

It is not known if Rutembesa was expelled this week.

The embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

After the attack on Nyamwasa in 2010, South Africa and Rwanda recalled their respective ­ambassadors for more than a year.

Wolters said Kagame’s actions are a clear violation of South African and international law.

“They need to send a strong message to him otherwise they might be labelled as spineless,” she said.

“Kagame loathed to be criticised. It is ironic to think that the two countries were once best friends.”

State Security Agency spokesperson Brian Dube confirmed security services were looking into the attacks against exiled Rwandans.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj ­referred City Press to the department of international relations and cooperation, whose spokesperson Monyela in turn referred us to the department of justice, which comments on behalf of the security cluster.

The justice department had not commented by the time of going to print.

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