Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Museveni links Kampala riots to rebel group

KAMPALA - The deployment of battle-hardened and heavily armed soldiers in Kampala during the September 10-12 riots was based on intelligence reports that a new rebel group had infiltrated the city and was ready to attack. A highly placed source in military intelligence told The Observer weekly that President Museveni instructed the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), General Aronda Nyakairima, to move combat troops from as far as Sudan and Karamoja in North-Eastern Uganda to Kampala on the first day of rioting ready to quell a possible rebel attack.

The President, the source said, suspected that the Popular Patriotic Front (PPF), a shadowy rebel group, was behind the rioting, or would take advantage of them to launch a war. The PPF came to the limelight in June this year after the Army arrested 11 people, including a journalist, in Northern Uganda and charged them with treason. Gulu LC-V Chairman, Norbert Mao, who publicly said he had lost a computer memory stick containing information about the PPF, nearly got himself into trouble. The PPF suspects have since been remanded to Luzira Prison in Kampala.

The government claims that the PPF is supported by Ugandans in the diaspora, as well as several home-based opposition politicians. This is not the first time a shadowy hand of foreign elements is being cited as having been behind the September 10-12 riots that rocked Kampala and other urban parts of Buganda.

The suspicion arises from what the government believes to be an unusual degree of organisation during the disturbances. When riots broke out in Kampala and spread to other parts of Buganda, President Museveni told the nation in a pre-recorded televised statement that a foreign hand he did not name had rendered support to rioters. It emerged later that the President suspected his longtime ally Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gadhafi, of having bankrolled elements in Mengo to riot.

Museveni said: “I also got information that Mengo elements got foreign funds to further their aims of fighting the NRM and undermining the Constitution.” The source said that Museveni instructed Gen. Nyakairima in a written communication dated September 10 to bring to Kampala the Army’s best fighters, including the 53rd Battalion based in Karugutu, the 3rd Battalion based in Sudan, and one battalion specialised in bomb attacks. The President further ordered Nyakairima to immediately find out “if they are rioters or PPF.”

Museveni directed that the Deputy Chief of Defence Forces [Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta], the Inspector General of Police [Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura], and the Chief of Military Intelligence [Brig. James Mugira], take charge of the operation. The President also demanded that the 1st Division Commander be on alert, just in case his forces were to be called upon.

According to the source, Museveni, in his communication, ordered the Police chief to ensure that minimum force is used and that soldiers and security personnel should only be aggressive in self-defence. Museveni called for the use of what he called “non-lethal but firm methods” such as rubber bullets. He, however, added that if it is found that the riots are actually a PPF attack, the rebels should be “destroyed”.

The move to bring in the Army and all intelligence agencies, the source says, was meant to maximise manpower in the event that the riots were the handiwork of rebels. The riots that left more than 20 people dead, hundreds injured and 500 arrested, broke out after the government blocked the Katikkiro of Buganda, Eng. J.B. Walusimbi, from visiting Bugerere in Kayunga district, to prepare for the Kabaka’s visit.

The government had refused the Kabaka to tour the area, citing security concerns and demanding that the king first negotiates with Sabanyala, the cultural leader of a minority ethnic group that is seeking autonomy from Buganda. Although the riots were eventually crushed with maximum force, the Army has kept a presence in Kampala and this, according to sources, is another presidential directive.

In another communication to General Nyakairima shortly after the riots ended, Museveni instructed his CDF to deploy “enough security personnel in Kampala and surrounding towns.” He said most of them should be in civilian clothing. The President asked the CDF to screen all those arrested, identify the ringleaders and inform him accordingly.

More than 100 suspects have so far been charged, mainly with incitement to violence and malicious damage to property. However, another 20 or so have been charged with terrorism in connection with the burning down of Nateete Police Station during the riots. They face life imprisonment if convicted.

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