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Uganda

Ugandan traditional king charged with murder

Charles Wesley Mumbere of the Kingdom of Rwenzururu has been in custody since the military raided his palace on Sunday. At least 62 people died in clashes between his guards and security forces.

Charles Wesley Mumbere of the Kingdom of Rwenzururu in western Uganda has been charged with murder and sent to a high security prison. He has been remanded in jail until December 13, Solomon Muyita, a spokesman for the Ugandan judiciary said.    

Clashes between Mumbere's guards and Ugandan security forces have claimed at least 62 lives. The death toll includes 46 guards and 6 police officers. Most of the fatalities occurred when the guards tried to intervene as police sought to disarm them and detain Mumbere. It is possible that more people may have been killed, becasue the many of the clashes happened deep in the villages and may not have been reported. 

Mumbere is the king of the Bakonzo ethnic group, some of whom have called for secession from Uganda. The fighting took place in Kasese, 340 kilometers (211 miles) west of the capital, Kampala, near the Rwenzori Mountains that border the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

At least 149 people have been arrested and securtiy forces were continuing to comb the mountainous area.  

There has been no statement from the king, who is a supporter of opposition parties that have challenged President Yoweri Museveni's victory in February's elections.

Opposition hotbed

Pictures of bodies piled up on the streets of Kasese town were leaked on social media creating a public relations nightmare for the Ugandan government. Other images published show naked women lined up. They are believed to have been residents of Wesley Mumbere's palace, which was torched by the security forces. Ugandan journalist Doreen Biira was arrested on Sunday for taking and posting pictures of the burning palace. She was later released on bond late on Monday.

The whole region is a considered an opposition stronghold. The president has been performing poorly in elections in the area and opposition leaders believe that this could be one of the reasons for the government's use of extreme force.

The Ugandan army and the police maintain that the guard camps in the palace's area are illegal. Brigadier Peter Elweru told DW, that those camps would be completely disbanded: "Anything called royal guard camp is unacceptable", he said. "We have told them to leave. Get out, and we mean it." Elweru said that the army had to do something about this group "because these are not royal guards, these are terrorists."

Deutschland König Charles Wesley Mumbere von Uganda in München (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Hörhager)

Traditional king Charles Wesley Mumbere on a visit to Munich, Germany in 2013

Elweru commanded the division that attacked the palace on President Yoweri Museveni's orders. It is reported that Museveni personally called Mumbere to talk him into disbanding his armed guards, but the king refused. Wesley Mumbere has said before that his kingdom did not want to be part of Uganda anymore. He has said that he intends to proclaim his own country and name it Biira Republic.

Death penalty

Upon the king's arrest, spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesa of the Uganda Police said that if suspicions are confirmed that Mumbere was supporting secessionists, he wouldn't be charged with treason. If convicted, the king could be sentenced to death."He has been behind inciting this violence and we need to know details of that," Kaweesa said.

On Saturday evening, a police post near the town of Kasese was attacked by what police said were the royal guard. The king's guard is believed to be part of a militia agitating for the creation of an independent republic straddling Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mumbere has denied any links to the separatists or involvement in Saturday's attack.

Mount Stanley in West-Uganda im Ruwenzori Nationalpark (CC BY-SA 3.0/Monfornot)

The Rwenzori Moountains in Uganda

This is not the first occurrence of unrest in Kasese. This year, the army clashed with insurgents several times. in February during presidential elections, in March and in May when President Museveni was sworn in. Brigadier Elwelu of the Ugandan army told local television that the militia has been carrying out sporadic attacks against the government and civilians since 2014.

Fleeing homes

The unrest has forced many people to leave their homes and seek refuge in nearby districts. A resident who did not want to be identified told DW that the presence of the army has not improved the situation. "Citizens are scared". He added that the deployment of security forces led people "to flee their homes and scatter to several places."

Fighting continued on Monday. The army is demanding that the remaining militia surrender and apply for amnesty. 

 

Alex Gitta in Kampala contributed to this article.

 

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