WESTERN Uganda - At least 72 people are dead following separate attacks by unknown gunmen in Bundibugyo, Kasese and Ntoroko districts in Rwenzori region in western Uganda on Saturday.
Three Police officers, two UPDF soldiers and scores of civilians are among the dead after clashes that have been blamed on ethnic tensions in the districts.
Assailants, some armed with guns, pangas, spears, bows and arrows carried out what appeared to be coordinated attacks in the three districts, targeting key installations including Police stations, army barracks and homes.
Eye witness accounts put the death toll at 53 in Bundibugyo district, 12 people in Kasese and seven in Ntoroko. Although the motive of the attackers has not yet been established, security sources said the attacks could be linked to clashes between the Bakonzo, Bamba, Basongora and Banyabindi ethnic tribes.
UPDF spokesperson Maj Paddy Ankunda yesterday said the army was yet to establish who was behind the attacks. Ankunda dismissed reports that the attacks could have been carried out by the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) rebels and linked the incidents to ethnic militias.
“Kasese, Bundibugyo attacks are linked to tribal differences, not ADF,” he said in a Twitter post, before later posting, “The big question is who is behind the attacks?”
Residents gathered after the attacks in Kasese
Gunmen attacked two policemen guarding the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) weighbridge at Katungulu along the Mbarara- Kasese highway.
The Kasese district Police commander, Michael Musani Sabila said the attackers who were travelling in a taxi grabbed two AK47 assault rifles from the policemen. One of them, Special Police Constable (SPC) Jacob Muhindo was killed. His colleague, Amos Tumwiine survived.
Another group attacked and killed six people in Bigando division of Kasese town, including a UPDF veteran, Corporal Grace Tibimanya and his three children. His mother is still missing.
The attackers also killed five other civilians in Ibuga division, Kitswamba sub-county and set several houses ablaze. Some of the dead were identifi ed as Enid Ssenga, Poffy Karungi and Potter Mutoro.
Sunday morning, 11 bodies of civilians were also discovered in Buzibwera in Kitswamba subcounty.
Three people were arrested while using binoculars to monitor the Kasese Police main barracks along Kasese-Kilembe road.
The site of the attack on policemen guarding a weigh bridge, where one was killed. PHOTO/Wilson Asiimwe
Witness speaks out
Steven Kyomya, the chairperson of Ibuga village in Bundibugyo, told New Vision that the attackers chanted Mai-Mai as they attacked the area.
Kyomya said they are now leaving in fear since a similar group recently attacked Nsinungi, a village in the neighbourhood and threatened that they would go back to finish off the whole village.
Emmanuel Egar, a Police officer, who was shot twice in his right leg at Karugutu Police Station, receives treatment Buhinga Hospital in Fort Portal. He was attacked on Saturday. PHOTO/Dorcus Murungi
Around the time of the Kasese attack, another group raided Kicho Police Post in Bundibugyo and later the district Police station, where they killed two policemen.
The deceased were identifi ed as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Wilson Mugume Bataka, the officer-in-charge of Police Station and Police Constable Swaibu Aliga. Four of the attackers were killed.
According to the 2nd Division Spokesperson, Maj. Ronald Kakurungu, the attackers later raided the army barracks at Kanyamwirima and several of them were killed in an exchange of fire.
According to eye witnesses, the thugs attacked a Stanbic bank branch in Bundibugyo town where they were repulsed by UPDF soldiers who shot dead two of them. Two civilian residents of Kihungu village in Bundibugyo district were also killed.
Eye witnesses counted up to 36 bodies in Bundibugyo town Sunday morning.
Eyewitnesses say there was a lot of gunfire as the army and the Police repulsed the attackers at about 3:00pm.
“We were in the mosque praying when we heard gunshots. I peeped through the window and saw a group of men holding pangas and spears. Heavy gunfire followed,” said Abubaker Manyindo, a resident.
Bereaved residents at a mortuary in Kasese to identify the deceased
Bamba king attacked
The attackers also raided the palace of the recently installed Bamba king, the Omundingya, Maj. John Kamya, near Bundibugyo district headquarters.
One of his guards was killed. It is not known where the Omundingya was at the time of the attack on his palace, but sources said he had recently left the district for treatment in Kampala.
Another group of armed men attacked Karugutu Police Station. Two people, including a UPDF soldier, were killed. Five people were also killed in Kibuku Town Council.
Kasese deputy RDC Aminadabu Muhindo blamed the attacks on tribal conflicts. Fred Enanga, the Police spokesperson, said the by radical elements linked to the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu, a cultural institution of the Bakonzo.
However, the Rwenzururu prime minister, Noah Nzaghale, told New Vision on phone on Sunday that the kingdom was not involved in the attacks.
“As a kingdom, we strongly disassociate ourselves from these barbaric acts,” he stated.
Nzaghale said the kingdom was meeting over the matter. The Saturday attacks came at a time when the Banyabindi, a minority ethnic group in Kasese district, were commemorating the death of their colleagues during the Rwenzururu uprising in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
The function at Muhokya was held amid tight security to stem possible violence. Some sections of the Bakonzo were opposed to the function, regarding it as being held in bad faith.
A soldier stands guard at the same site. PHOTO/Wilson Asiimwe
The Rwenzori 305th army brigade spokesperson, Lt. Ninsiima Rwemijuma described the attacks as a form of ‘tribal hooliganism.’
Major Kakurungu also ruled out rebel involvement in the incidents and attributed the attacks on the rivalry brewing between various ethnic groups in the Rwenzori region.
“This is a tribal affair between the Bakonzo Bamba, Basongora and Banyabindi,” Kakurungu said.
Leaders call for calm
Bwamba County MP and state minister of education (primary), Dr. Kamanda Bataringaya appealed to residents to remain calm while the incidents are being investigated.
“Bundibugyo has been peaceful since the ADF were defeated. I appeal to our people to remain calm. The Government will ensure that those responsible for the attack are held,” Bataringaya said.
Boaz Kafuda, the Busongora County South MP, said preliminary reports had pointed to tribal clashes and called for an end to the fighting.
“We have co-existed for many years: why are we fighting now? What people did here is terrible! People should remain calm and desist from such cruel acts. We must live together,” Kafuda stated.
Ntoroko Woman MP Jennifer Mujungu said the clashes were a surprise since various ethnic groups in the district have lived together for a long time without fighting. “In Ntoroko, we have lived together as different tribes without any clashes.
Nobody should take the law into their own hands. My people should avoid taking part in tribal conflicts,” she said.
On Saturday, the UPDF took over security of Kasese Police Station and the major streets of Kasese Municipality. New Vision has learnt that the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, has camped in the region to oversee coordination of security with other security agencies.
(Compiled by Taddeo Bwambale, Wilson Asiimwe, John Thawite, John B.B. Nzinjah & Simon Masaba)
Graphic illustration by Brian Sekamate