Rwandan general testifies over shooting

2012-06-20 15:42

Johannesburg - Even before an exiled Rwandan general could begin testifying on Wednesday about being shot in South Africa, a lawyer representing Rwanda's government rose to try to prevent politics from being inserted into the attempted murder case being heard in South Africa.

General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa took the stand on Wednesday as a witness in the attempted murder case, making his first public appearance since he was shot and wounded in Johannesburg in 2010.

Rwandan authorities have repeatedly denied involvement, and hired South African lawyer Gerhard van der Merwe to monitor proceedings.

Nyamwasa, a former Rwandan military chief, has become a sharp critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame since coming to South Africa in 2010. Rwandans in exile have accused Kagame of using his agents to hunt down his external foes.

After the prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, told the court he wanted Nyamwasa to describe his background, Van der Merwe interrupted to say that could lead to speculation about government involvement.

"The consequences in doing that could be severe," he said.

Police protection

Magistrate Stanley Mkhari dismissed the objections, and ordered Van der Merwe to remain only a silent observer for rest of the case because "the government of Rwanda is not a party to the process".

Nyamwasa and dissident leaders accuse Kagame of crushing opponents and trampling on democracy after helping to end the genocide that left 500 000 people dead in 1994.

Kagame was re-elected in 2010, months after Nyamwasa was shot.

Last year, Nyamwasa was among four former Kagame aides in exile in South Africa and the United States who were convicted in their absence by a Rwandan military court for disturbing public order, sectarianism, criminal conspiracy and threatening state security.

South African prosecutors have said key witnesses in the politically and diplomatically sensitive trial have sought police protection in South Africa because they fear Rwanda's government.

Previous testimony in the South African trial has hinted that shadowy figures were determined to kill Nyamwasa, trying more than once and offering large amounts of cash to draw in conspirators.

After Nyamwasa survived the shooting, prosecutors said the people pursuing him plotted to kill him in his South African hospital bed. But that case was dropped on lack of evidence.