3 Tanzanians among 4 guilty of attempts to kill Rwandan ex-general

(From L) Sady Abdou, Hemedi Denengo Sefu, Amani Uriwane, Richard Bachisa, Hassann Nduli and Pascal Kanyandekwe listen on August 28, 2014 on the first day of their sentencing at the Kagiso Magistrate Court in Krugersdorp, South Africa. (photo: AFP / Mujahid Safodien)

AFP — A South African court on Friday convicted four men of attempting to murder a Rwandan former general who had fled after falling out with the east African country's president, Paul Kagame.

Magistrate Stanley Mkhari found three Tanzanians and one Rwandan "guilty of attempted murder" after acquitting two other Rwandans -- the alleged mastermind and General Kayumba Nyamwasa's former driver.

Mkhari also concluded that the bid to assassinate Nyamwasa was driven by political motive.

"The attempted murder of General Nyamwasa was... politically motivated, emanating from a certain group of people from Rwanda," he said.

Rwandan national Amani Uriwane, together with Tanzanians Hassan Mohammedi Nduli, Sady Abdou and Hemedi Denengo Sefu, will be sentenced on September 10.

They face a maximum of 10 years in jail.

Six men in all -- three Rwandans and three Tanzanians -- were put on trial for the failed plot to
kill Nyamwasa, a former member of Kagame's inner circle.

Nyamwasa fled to South Africa in February 2010 after falling out with the Kigali administration, reportedly over politically motivated arrests.

Nyamwasa was shot and wounded in June 2010 as South Africa hosted the World Cup in what Pretoria described as an attack by foreign "security operatives".

Since that first attack, the 56-year-old Nyamwasa has survived three other attempts on his life.

The bullet from the first attack is still lodged in his lower spine pending insurance and medical decisions.

Kagame is revered as a hero by many, both in his country and abroad, for his role two decades ago in ending the Rwandan genocide, which left some 800,000 people dead and the country in ruins.

But human rights groups and critics have long accused his government of being behind hits on Kagame's critics who have sought political asylum abroad.

Kigali has denied any links with the killings.

- 'Politically motivated' -

But the fallen general who is now exiled in South Africa is convinced orders to eliminate opponents come straight from Kagame.

"It must be from the highest," he said.

The court heard that the convicted were each paid varying amounts of up to 50,000 rand ($5,000) each to kill Nyamwasa.

Another of Kagame's opponents, former spy chief Patrick Karegeya, was found dead in posh Johannesburg hotel in January, having been strangled with a towel.

Rwanda openly "bragged" about the murder, said Nyamwasa.

"And the people who were boasting were at the very top," said Nyamwasa.

The magistrate had "correctly observed" that the attempt on his own life was "politically motivated, culminating from Rwanda," Nyamwasa.

South Africa's prosecution authority said the convictions sent a "very strong" message that the country would not be a stage to settle foreign political battles.

"We will ensure that South Africa is not used as a safe haven, by anyone or by any country to achieve any kind of political agenda," said prosecution spokesman Nathi Mncube.

The general had been given asylum in South Africa, but his presence has caused diplomatic headaches for the host country.

Spain and France are both seeking to extradite him for an alleged role in the 1994 genocide.

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.

He furthermore faces terrorism charges for allegedly masterminding grenade attacks in Kigali in the run-up to Rwanda's 2010 presidential elections.