July 14, 2010 / 10:29 AM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 3-Missing Rwandan opposition figure found dead

* Police suspect robbery

* Party claims body almost decapitated

(Adds quotes, details)

By Hereward Holland

KIGALI, July 14 (Reuters) - The body of a leading member of a yet to be registered political party has been found near his abandoned car weeks ahead of a presidential election, his party and police said on Wednesday.

The Democratic Green Party’s vice president, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, was reported missing early on Tuesday. His pick-up truck was found in wetlands near the Mukula river close to the southern city of Butare.

The death is likely to raise tensions before August’s presidential election, which President Paul Kagame is expected to win. The Democratic Green Party has however been unable to register to take part in the election.

Police have begun an investigation into the killing and say the motive is unknown at present, although they suspect robbery.

“His body was found this morning 3 km (2 miles) from where his car was found, along with a large knife which may have been used in the killing. It was a kind of machete,” police spokesman Eric Kayiranga said.

“People who saw him that night say he had a lot of money, so it is suspected it may be a robbery case. Investigations have begun.”

Kayiranga said Rwisereka had chest wounds and his body had been taken to hospital. The Democratic Green Party say it has been taken to the mortuary for an autopsy.

Analysts and rights groups say Rwanda, which has positioned itself as a donor darling and investment magnet in recent years, has shown signs of increasing political repression,

Rwanda has rejected the accusations and says the government has pursued dialogue and accepted opposing views since the 1994 genocide.

“The simple fact of the matter is it will be perceived as a political killing, regardless if it was or not, and this will serve to heighten the tension in Rwanda,” a Western diplomat who declined to be named told Reuters.

Rights groups say the shooting of a dissident Rwandan general in South Africa, the murder of a critical journalist and the arrest of two presidential aspirants in recent months show a growing intolerance of dissent in Kigali.

Rwanda firmly denies being linked to either shooting and says the arrested politicians had violated anti-genocide legislation aimed at avoiding a repeat of the 1994 genocide.

Carina Tertsakian, a Rwanda researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that while it was too early to know who was behind the killing, the death of an opposition figure would have a chilling effect on the political scene.

“There needs to be proper and thorough investigations into each of these cases to establish exactly what happened. So we can’t point the finger directly, but there’s certainly a pattern emerging, a very worrying pattern,” she told Reuters by telephone from London.

Frank Habineza, founding President of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, said Rwisereka may have been decapitated, and that he now fears for his own life.

“His brother Antoine Haguma has seen the body and confirmed that his head was almost removed, cut off from his body,” he told Reuters.

“Personally I’m very scared because ... I’ve received death threats, that I was supposed to be killed before the election. My vice president is now dead, I’m very scared.”

Habineza added that he suspected Rwisereka was not carrying money when he went missing.

“As far as money is concerned, he left 600,000 Rwandan francs ($1,000) with his sister the night before, which she was supposed to bank before he came to Kigali... so he was not carrying money with him,” Habineza said. (Editing by George Obulutsa and Giles Elgood)

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