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LAGOS, Nigeria – The killing of Rwanda's former spy chief in South Africa has critics revisiting serious allegations against Western-backed President Paul Kagame that go back to the Central African nation's 1994 genocide.
Former Col. Patrick Karegeya, a wartime ally from Kagame's days as a rebel leader, was found dead last week in a bed in Johannesburg's prestigious Michelangelo Towers hotel. Police said he was possibly strangled.
Karegeya's friends and fellow dissidents accused Kagame of ordering the assassination, pointing to a pattern of alleged killings of his opponents at home and abroad. Karegeya fled to South Africa in 2007.
Officials in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, have not responded to requests for comment. But the Rwandan high commissioner in South Africa, Vincent Karega, told local broadcaster eNCA that talk of assassination is an "emotional reaction and opportunistic way of playing politics."
The killing comes five months after Karegeya claimed to have incriminating evidence that would prove Kagame, who is lauded by Western leaders for ending Rwanda's genocide, actually provided the catalyst for the mass killings.
In a July interview with Radio France International, Karegeya charged that Kagame ordered the downing of a jet that killed the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and neighboring Burundi, the event that triggered the genocide in which some 800,000 Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were killed over three months.
Karegeya said on RFI that he was willing to hand his evidence to a court in France that is investigating because the plane's pilots were French.
A long-suppressed U.N. report published in 2010 noted that Kagame in 1994 refused to have peace talks as thousands of mainly Tutsi Rwandans were being killed, buying the time that allowed his forces to reach Kigali and take control.
It accused Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front of then going on to massacre Hutus in Rwanda, including at Kibeho refugee camp in April 1995 before the eyes of Australian and Zambian U.N. peacekeepers, an attack allegedly led by Karegeya.
The same report, which carried a lengthy denial from Kagame's government, accused the Rwandan-led forces of "a possible genocide" of Rwandan and Congolese Hutus in eastern Congo in the mid-1990s.
Rwandan experts have said the U.N. failure to publish an earlier 1994 report on RPF massacres gave Kagame a blank check to continue the killings.
Defense lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the court for perpetrators of the genocide based in Tanzania, long have contended that the court has provided "victor's justice" by ignoring massacres by Kagame's forces.
Kagame is feted by current and former U.S. and British leaders who point to how he has transformed an impoverished and war-ravaged nation into an efficient technology hub with some of the highest rates for literacy and health in Africa. That has come at the cost of a dictatorship that ruthlessly suppresses opposition and routinely jails, disappears and kills opponents, according to critics.
Analysts say the West panders to Kagame because of its great guilt over not ending the Rwandan genocide. And Kagame, who blames French troops that allowed perpetrators of the genocide to escape into Congo, played to British and American interests in diluting French influence in Central Africa when he changed Rwanda's official language from French to English. That put Tutsi exiles who grew up in English-speaking Tanzania and Uganda at a great advantage over French-speaking Hutus. Rwanda's other official language is Kinyarwanda.
Initial opposition to Kagame came, predictably, from members of the Hutu tribe, but in recent years it has come increasingly from former Tutsi allies like Karegeya and others who fear the brutal suppression of Rwanda's majority people, the Hutu, might lead to another genocide.
About 85 percent of Rwandans are Hutu who were held in serfdom by Tutsi royalty in the 18th century. After World War I Rwanda fell to Belgian colonizers who entrenched divisions by ruling through the Tutsi monarch and educating only Tutsi males. Hutus who revolted had limbs amputated by Tutsis, on the order of the Belgians.
When independence and free elections came in 1961, they were won by Hutus. The first Tutsi attempt to regain power came a year later, with an invasion from Burundi. The Hutu government responded with brutal reprisals against Tutsi civilians.
Under Kagame, Hutu politicians have been killed or jailed in Rwanda. Journalists and judges also have been killed and imprisoned with the most fatal year being 2010, when Kagame was re-elected in polls that human rights activists called greatly flawed.
Kagame, who says many of his enemies deny the genocide, recently has taken to demanding that the children of Hutus apologize for the genocide that occurred before they were born.
"Kagame is actually blowing the country in the path of another genocide," said former Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa. He was Kagame's army chief of staff until 2010 and has survived two assassination attempts that are the subject of a South African court case and that left him with a bullet lodged in the base of his spine.