Rwandan ex-spy chief found 'murdered' in S. Africa

JOHANNESBURG - Rwanda's former spy chief has been found strangled after attending a meeting at a hotel in Johannesburg, where he had been living in exile, officials said on Thursday as police launched a murder probe.

The body of Colonel Patrick Karegeya, 53, was found slumped on a hotel bed, his neck swollen, in the upmarket area of the city on New Year's Day, police said.

"A towel with blood and a rope were found in the hotel room safe," police said in a statement. "There is a possibility that he might have been strangled."

Karegeya was the former head of Rwanda's external intelligence service and has lived in exile in South Africa for several years.

His party was first to announce the death early on Thursday, saying that he was strangled after attending a meeting at the Michelangelo Towers in Johannesburg's upmarket Sandton district.

"The Rwandan opposition is deeply saddened to announce the assassination of Colonel Patrick Karegeya in Johannesburg," the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) said in a statement. "His body was found in a hotel where he went for a meeting."

The party's chairman for Africa, Frank Ntwali, laid the blame on supporters of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

"He was strangled by agents of Kagame," he told AFP.

It was not immediately clear if he was killed on Tuesday night or on Wednesday.

Theogene Rudasinga, himself a former close aide to Kagame who is now a senior RNC figure based in the US, told AFP Karegeya's body had been found in the room by the man he went to meet.

"The guy he went to meet was well-known to Patrick. Patrick's body was found in the room reserved by that gentleman," Rudasingwa said.

He did not identify the man, saying only that he was a Rwandan national who travelled frequently between Rwanda and South Africa.

Karegeya was for a long time very close to Kagame. He served as head of external intelligence for around a decade before being demoted to army spokesman and was later arrested and jailed.

He was stripped of his rank of colonel in 2006 and fled into exile the following year.

Another prominent Rwandan dissident in South Africa, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, survived two assassination attempts in June 2010.

The RNC statement said investigations had found "overwhelming evidence of the involvement of Rwandan intelligence operatives in those attempts".

Rwanda has vehemently denied involvement in the attacks.

Karegeya and Nyamwasa are both prominent figures in the opposition party, despite not holding specific posts.

Karegeya leaves behind his wife Leah and three children.