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Conflict

Dozens killed in fighting between Uganda forces and tribal militia

Scores of people have died in battles between government forces and fighters of the Bakonzo tribe in a remote district near the Congo border. The men are protecting tribal king Charles Wesley Mumbere.

At least 54 people, including 41 rebels and 13 police officers, died in clashes in Uganda's Rwenzori region, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the area's police spokesman Felix Kaweesi told reporters.

"Yesterday a joint Ugandan police and UPDF [army] operation, patrolling in Kasese town ... came under attack by royal guards of the kingdom. The attackers threw an improvised grenade which exploded and injured one soldier. Security forces reacted and shot in self-defense, killing four attackers," Kaweesi said.

The fighting continued all through Saturday until Sunday, he said, adding that King Mumbere was trapped in his palace amid heavy gunfire.

According to government spokesman Col. Shaban Bantariza, some rebels have climbed up the Rwenzori mountains and set up military camps from which they run a parallel government, issuing taxes and even printing money. The group is hoping to create a republic known as Yiira, covering parts of Uganda and part of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and possesses modern weapons and improvised explosive devices.

"They had shut down life in the areas they occupied ... We shall beat those who want to cause trouble on our land," Bantariza told reporters.

The Bakonzo tribe belong to the Rwenzururu kingdom, a traditional monarchy based near the Rwenzori Mountains, on the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under King Charles Wesley Mumbere, the rebels declared their own kingdom in 1962. After two decades of fighting a deal was reached in 1982 where rebels agreed to lay down their arms in return for autonomy.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni officially recognized the kingdom in 2009. However, unrest has continued as many people feel marginalized by officials in the capital Kampala and have accused the government of sponsoring land grabs. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and has struggled to win over the support of the Bakonzo People.

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mg/jlw (AP, Reuters)

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