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Rights groups launch bid to cancel Rwandan general’s asylum

Two human rights groups said Tuesday they have launched legal action to force South Africa to revoke the refugee status of former Rwandan army general Faustin Nyamwasa.

The groups said South Africa was violating its own refugees act and international law by granting exile to Nyamwasa, who has been accused of playing a catalytic role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

“Refugee law is intended to protect the vulnerable, not those who are the cause of the vulnerability,” said Alan Wallis, a lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which brought the case together with the Consortium for Refugees and Migrant Rights.

Officials at South Africa’s home affairs ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the case.

Nyamwasa, formerly part of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s inner circle, fled to South Africa in February 2010 after being accused of corruption and abandoning his post as Rwanda’s envoy to India.

He was shot and wounded outside his Johannesburg home four months later in what South Africa’s foreign ministry described as an assassination attempt by foreign “security operatives”.

Pretoria recalled its ambassador to Rwanda in the wake of the incident.

Nyamwasa’s presence has caused diplomatic headaches for South Africa.

Spain and France are both seeking to extradite him for his alleged role in the Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people were killed.

Rwanda also wants to bring him home to serve a 24-year prison sentence after a military court tried him in absentia on charges of desertion, defamation and threatening state security.

Nyamwasa was tried with three other former top officials who co-authored a document slamming what they said was the repression of freedoms in Rwanda since Kagame’s arrival in 1994.

He also faces terrorism charges for allegedly masterminding grenade attacks last year in Kigali in the run-up to presidential elections.

Nyamwasa served as chief of staff in the Rwandan army and is accused of orchestrating the shooting down of an aircraft carrying former president Juvenal Habyarimana — an event that heightened ethnic tensions and helped spark the genocide.

He is also accused of involvement in the killing of civilians in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, including 2,500 Hutu refugees.