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S.Africa ‘sternly’ warns Rwanda amid furious diplomatic row

South Africa Wednesday warned it would not be used as a battleground to settle political scores by foreign nations after it expelled Rwandan diplomats suspected of masterminding attacks on dissidents.

“As the South African government, we want to send a very stern warning to anybody anywhere in the world that our country will not be used as a springboard to do illegal activities,” Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told reporters.

But Rwanda’s Foreign Minister lashed back at the reproach telling South Africa that “good diplomatic relations (are) better served by South Africa addressing illegal activities of protected Rwandan fugitives on their soil,” Louise Mushikiwabo said on Twitter.

Last week, Pretoria ejected three Rwandan diplomats and one from Burundi after the botched assassination of an exiled opponent of Rwanda’s strongman Paul Kagame on its soil.

South Africa had declared the envoys “persona non grata”, because they had “violated their diplomatic privileges.”

In retaliation, Rwanda kicked out six South African diplomats.

“Any individual or groups of people who abuse our human rights dispensation… will face the full might of the law,” added Radebe.

But South Africa’s decision to kick out the envoys was “simply wrong” said Rwanda.

“South Africa expelling law-abiding Rwandan diplomats was simply wrong & Rwanda has every right to reciprocate,” tweeted Mushikiwabo.

A group of armed men raided the Johannesburg house of ex-army general Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa last week, according to the opposition Rwanda National Congress. He and his wife were not at home.

Nyamwasa has already survived two assassination attempts.

Diplomatic relations between South Africa and Rwanda have been strained since Kigali’s former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, who was also exiled in South Africa, was found strangled to death in a luxury Johannesburg hotel on New Year’s Day.

– ‘Legitimate’ warning –

Rwanda’s ambassador to South Africa, Vincent Karega, refused to comment on the allegations raised by Pretoria “until I see the contents of the accusations”.

But he accepted South Africa’s warning as “legitimate”.

“No country wants to see other countries or bodies from outside acting on their behalf, in their country without agreeing on it,” he told AFP by phone from Kigali.

After Nyamwasa was shot and wounded in 2010, Pretoria described the attack as an assassination attempt by foreign “security operatives” and recalled its ambassador to Rwanda.

Six men — three Rwandans and three Tanzanians — are on trial accused of trying to kill him.

Nyamwasa, who was a member of Kagame’s inner circle, fled to South Africa in 2010 after falling out with the Kigali administration and was granted refugee status.

South Africa is home to numerous Rwandan dissidents, a bitter bone of contention between the two countries.

Following Karegeya’s killing, Kagame’s response to accusations his government was behind the hits, was ambiguous yet hawkish.

“Anyone who betrays our cause or wishes our people ill will fall victim,” said Kagame early this year.

Despite the diplomatic tiff, South African government insists relations with Rwanda remain unbroken.

“There are good diplomatic relations between South Africa and Rwanda and those still remain intact,” said Radebe.

But the Rwandan ambassador pointed to “very big problems” that still need to be ironed out between the two countries.

Minister Mushikiwabo alleged “Rwandan fugitives continue to engage in terrorist acts back home”.

“Despite repeated promises from Pretoria, the problem is unresolved,” she added.

The ambassador however was “optimistic that after talks we will definitely find good ground”.

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday also tried to downplay the row.

“Even the most advanced and oldest democracies in the world, they fight on the question of diplomats that misbehave in their countries,” he said.