Rwandan former Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa gestures from the witness box in a court in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Nyamwasa, a critic of his former boss Rwandan President Paul Kagame, took the stand as a witness Wednesday, making his first public appearance since he was shot and wounded in Johannesburg in 2010.
JOHANNESBURG (AP) â€” In a sensational trial that might confirm or debunk suspicions Rwanda has deployed hit teams against dissidents abroad, a former Rwandan military commander who had a falling out with the country’s president testified Wednesday that he feared becoming a prisoner in his homeland before fleeing to South Africa, where he wasÂ shot.
Three Rwandans and three Tanzanians are charged with trying to kill Gen.Â Faustin Â Kayumba Nyamwasain 2010. Rwanda’s former military chief was shot on June 19, 2010, in his car when he and his wife were returning home from shopping. Assassins then allegedly tried to finish the job after Nyamwasa wasÂ hospitalized.
Rwandan authorities have repeatedly denied involvement. Last year, British police warned Rwandan exiles in Britain that their lives were in danger, and the threat was believed to have emanated from the Rwandan government. In Sweden earlier this year, a Rwandan diplomat was expelled because he was engaged in “refugee espionage,” according to a person close to the SwedishÂ government.
At the trial in Johannesburg, a South African lawyer hired by Rwanda’s government to monitor the proceedings rose to speak after the prosecutor told the court he wanted Nyamwasa to describe his background.Â Gerhard van der Merwe, Rwanda’s lawyer, said that could lead to speculation about governmentÂ involvement.
“The consequences in doing that could be severe,” van der MerweÂ said.
Magistrate Stanley Mkhari ordered van der Merwe to remain silent for rest of the trial because “the government of Rwanda is not a party to theÂ process.”
Since coming to South Africa in 2010, Nyamwasa has accused Rwandan PresidentÂ Paul KagameÂ of crushing dissent and trampling on democracy after the two worked together to end the 1994 Rwanda genocide that left more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead. Rwandans in exile have accused Kagame of using his agents to hunt down his foesÂ abroad.
Security has been tight throughout the year-long proceedings, with heavily armed police officers in the court. For the first time Wednesday, the officers cleared the court and brought in sniffer dogs to search it before the general began hisÂ testimony
Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory in Rwanda in 1994, ending the genocide. Nyamwasa served in Kagame’s security apparatus and was army chief from 1998 to 2001, when he left to study global security in Britain. He later was appointed Rwanda’s national security coordinator and then ambassador toÂ India.
In court Wednesday, as his wife and other supporters watched from the gallery, Nyamwasa described returning from India for his mother’s funeral and to attend a governing party meeting inÂ 2010.
“The purpose of the meeting was to harass me,” he said, saying he was accused of defying party discipline for actions that in some cases dated back years. He said he had opposed moves against Hutu politicians who had joined the post-genocide government, seeing attacks on leading Hutus as undermining unity andÂ reconciliation.
He said he was asked to write a letter of apology, and that he had seen such letters used to discredit others, and even as evidence in court cases that resulted in jailÂ terms.
“I recognized, first of all, that I would be arrested, and that after the arrest, I would not be granted due process of law,” he testifiedÂ Wednesday.
He said he told party officials he would write the letter and present it to Kagame the next day. He said he never intended to write theÂ letter.
“I left the country and fled,” heÂ recounted.
He was not asked whether he believes the Rwandan government was behind the attempt to killÂ him.
Edited by Francis Rwema
Rwanda’s General Nyamwasa in SA ‘murder plot’ evidence
A former Rwandan army chief who survived two assassination attempts has given evidence at the trial of Â Â Â those accused of plotting to kill him.
Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa fled to South Africa in 2010 after falling out with his former ally, Rwandan Â President Paul Kagame.
Months later he survived a Johannesburg shooting, which Rwanda denied being involved in. A second plot was foiled.
He is a witness at the attempted murder trial in Johannesburg.
A lawyer representing Rwanda’s government raised an objection on the grounds that Gen Nyamwasa’s testimony could be political.
However, magistrate Stanley Mkhari dismissed the objection, which was raised as the former army chief prepared to tell the court about his background, because “the government of Rwanda is not a party to the process”.
Gen Nyamwasa has told the court about his early life and career in what is thought to be his first public appearance since the attempts to kill him.
The former Rwandan army chief was shot in the stomach as he was being driven back to his home in Johannesburg in June 2010 and taken to hospital, where a second attempt on his life was foiled by South African intelligence.
Rwanda has denied accusations it was involved.
Prior to their falling out, Gen Nyamwasa and the Rwandan president had been close allies.
He helped Mr Kagame to come to power and was appointed army chief of staff in 1998.
But their relationship soured and he was accused of undermining President Kagame, who some critics say runs a repressive regime.
Rwandans have linked Gen Nyamwasa to a series of grenade attacks in the country’s capital, Kigali.
Last year a Rwandan military court sentenced Gen Nyamwasa to 24 years in jail for threatening state security.
Rwanda has pushed South Africa to extradite him to serve the sentence