Eight police officers guarded the home of a prominent Rwandan dissident in Belgium for four days last month in the latest case of a threat to the life of a Rwandan opposition leader in exile, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The dissident, Faustin Twagiramungu, is a former Rwandan prime minister and ally of President Paul Kagame who broke with the government and launched an unsuccessful challenge against Mr. Kagame in the 2003 election.
Mr. Kagame has been lauded by Western governments for his role in helping end the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and his economic reforms are often praised as a model for Africa, but he has also provoked controversy for his authoritarian rule.
Some Western governments, including the United States, have begun to criticize the Kagame government for its suspected role in trying to silence its opponents around the world.
The Rwandan government has repeatedly denied The Globe’s reports on the murder plots. But there is mounting evidence that Mr. Kagame’s agents are involved in organized efforts to kill exiled dissidents in South Africa, Uganda, Belgium, Britain, Sweden and elsewhere.
In an interview, Mr. Twagiramungu said Belgian police and state security services arrived at his home near Brussels on April 4 to inform him that his life was in imminent danger – just two days after Mr. Kagame and his delegation were in the Belgian capital for a summit with the European Union and African Union.
He said Belgium’s head of state security alerted him to the urgent threat and dispatched eight police officers in four vehicles, one of them armoured, to his home. The police provided surveillance around his residence until April 8, at which time the threat was considered much lower.
Mr. Twagiramungu said Belgian authorities did not explain the nature of these threats. “They only told me that they were informed about the threat by a third country,” he said. “They talked emotionally. They said this was very serious. I started fearing what could happen to me. I have to be very careful.”
A Belgian police inspector in charge of the Twagiramungu case, Jean-François Goldian, confirmed the threat against the Rwandan politician but said he could not divulge any more details.
“I’ve sent everything [to the prosecutor] and cannot say more,” Mr. Goldian said in an interview.
Mr. Twagiramungu was the first prime minister of Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. He resigned in 1995, fled the country and returned in 2003 to contest the presidential election. He ran as an independent because his party was banned and his campaign managers were arrested. After the election, he fled Rwanda again.
Around the world, there are growing fears by Rwandan dissidents that they are being targeted for assassination. Mr. Kagame’s former spy chief, Patrick Karegeya, was strangled to death in a Johannesburg hotel room on Dec. 31, and his former army chief, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, has suffered a series of attempts on his life since 2010, including a raid on his Johannesburg home by a group of heavily armed men on March 4.
South Africa has accused Rwandan diplomats of involvement in murder and attempted murder, and it expelled four Rwandan diplomats after the March 4 attack on Mr. Nyamwasa. Police spokesmen say the main suspects in the Karegeya murder are currently “not in South Africa” and the police are trying to bring them back for prosecution.
A Rwandan diaspora organization in Canada, the Congrès Rwandais du Canada, wrote a letter to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney in March to warn him that some Rwandan exiles are living in fear of attack.
The group said it is worried about “false refugees” – Rwandan security agents who quietly attend its events in Canada, causing anxiety among its members. It called on the government to ensure the safety of Rwandans in Canada.
After the murder of Mr. Karegeya, the group said, Mr. Kagame seemed to be inciting further violence against dissidents by giving a speech in which he warned that anyone who betrays Rwanda “will pay the price.”
In another development, South Africa’s state television channel has broadcast a documentary in which a Rwandan exile said he was approached by a Rwandan official who offered money in exchange for the home addresses and favourite drinking spots of Mr. Karegeya, Mr. Nyamwasa and other Rwandan dissidents.
The documentary also cited prosecution statements from the trial of six suspects accused of trying to kill Mr. Nyamwasa in 2010, which alleged that the Rwandan government had tried to “discredit” a witness in the case. The statements also said a Rwandan diplomat had sought the address of Mr. Nyamwasa’s home and his children’s school.