14 July 2010

Rwanda: Missing Rwandan Opposition Figure Beheaded in Grizzly Attack

Kigali — A senior opposition figure in Rwanda who went missing earlier this week has been found dead near the border of Burundi, officials in Rwanda said today.

The body of Gakwe Rwisereka, the Vice-President of the controversial Democratic Green Party was found by his family today by the banks of a river, nearly beheaded.

Mr Rwisereka had gone missing earlier this week and his car was found abandoned on Tuesday, Mr Rwisereka's keys, IDs, and passport still inside.

His body was found nearby today. It is the latest of a series of setbacks to befall the Green Party, which has not yet been able to register for presidential elections coming in August, and the latest setback in general for weak and disorganized opposition politics in Rwanda.

"It is very scary now," said Frank Habineza, President of the Green Party.

Mr Habineza said that Mr Rwisereka had been threatened before he disappeared and that Mr Habineza himself has also received death threats.

"We have called for the police and the government of Rwanda to find out the cause of his death," said Mr Habineza. "The ball is in their hands."

Police in Rwanda confirmed the death to reporters in Kigali, but said that there was suspicion that the murder may have been tied to a robbery.

"His body was found this morning," said Eric Kayiranga, a spokesperson for the Rwandan police, "along with a long knife. It was a kind of machete."

Both police and Mr Habineza said that it was too early to guess the cause or motive for the death, but that investigations were ongoing. The Green Party has been in the government's crosshairs since its formation and trying to challenge President Paul Kagame in upcoming presidential elections slated for August.

The party says that it has been blocked from formally registering by the government despite making six attempts and has also been racked by political infighting within the group.

Unlike other political parties FDU-Inkingi and PS-Imberakuri, the Green Party has not built its base around ethnic differences or Hutu populism, and is instead made up mostly of former ruling-party members who grew up, like President Kagame, as Tutsi refugees in Uganda.

Mr Rwisereka was born in Rwanda, but like other Tutsis fled the country in the 1960s with his family, and was raised in the Congo.

Since then, some say that he has maintained close relations with other Congolese Tutsi, many of whom supported rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, who was arrested by Rwanda last year.

According to media in Rwanda, the Green Party maintains links to many ruling-party insiders, including general Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who fled Rwanda earlier this year and was shot in an apparent assassination attempt in South Africa last month.

The death of Mr Rwisereka is the latest calamity to hit the challenging party.

While four candidates -- including the incumbent President Kagame - are registered to stand for election this August, the country's most controversial and vocal opposition figures have been blocked from formally registering their candidacy, and many politicians have been arrested.

Victoire Ingabire, a female candidate who returned to Rwanda in January after over 16 years in exile, was arrested last April and charged with espousing genocide ideology and working with rebel groups. Bernard Ntaganda, another politician charged with promoting ethnic divisionism, was arrested in June, and has been denied bail, despite going on a hunger strike in prison.

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