Rwanda opposition asks U.S. to help defuse tension
* Letter to ambassador asks Washington to step in
* Parties seek postponement of presidential ballot
By Hereward Holland
KIGALI, July 6 (Reuters) - Three Rwandan opposition parties have asked the United States to use its influence to help resolve social and political tension in the country before the presidential election in August.
Rights groups say the government and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) have become increasingly intolerant of dissent and criticism in the run-up to the vote, which President Paul Kagame is widely expected to win.
In an open letter last week to the U.S. ambassador in Kigali, Stuart Symington, and seen by Reuters on Sunday, the three-party coalition said: "We strongly believe that your leverage as the ambassador of the United States of America in Rwanda can help diffuse tensions as the presidential elections loom and... (the) military crisis deepens."
Regional analysts say the flight of a former army chief, the arrest of two senior officers and a military reshuffle since the beginning of the year are signs of a growing rift between Kagame and top aides in the RPF and the army.
The parties in the coalition, the Permanent Consultative Council of Opposition Parties in Rwanda, are PS Imberakuri, the Democratic Green Party and the United Democratic Forces. PS Imberakuri is the only registered party in the group.
The coalition asked for U.S. assistance in opening up politics, changing anti-genocide legislation and guaranteeing the security forces remained outside politics, and sought a postponement of the ballot, due take place on Aug. 9, to allow more time to ensure it is transparent and free.
"Unless (development) efforts are underpinned by democracy, freedom and the rule of law, the achievements in that area will not be sustainable," the parties said.
In recent months, a series of unexplained grenade attacks in the capital have killed several people and injured dozens.
Kagame has rejected the allegations of discord with his generals and has said the officers who had been exiled and arrested were guilty of corruption.
"There should be accountability at every level. It doesn't matter whether you are a general, a president, an ordinary citizen, an MP or a minister, there should be a sense of accountability," he told a Ugandan newspaper last month.
In Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told Congress last month Rwanda had suspended two independent newspapers, arrested a high-profile opposition figure, expelled a human rights researcher and prevented two opposition parties from registering.
Rwanda rejects accusations of clamping down on opponents and says the government has pursued dialogue and accepted opposing views since the 1994 genocide. (Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
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