By Lt Col Paddy Ankunda
One local daily of December 2, 2016 published an intriguing article titled "MP recounts how royal guards were killed" in what seemed like an interview with Godfrey Atkins Katusabe of Bukonzo West constituency. In the article, many wild allegations were made about the conduct of the security forces during operations in Kasese on November 26, 2016 and 27, 2016. We, therefore, would wish to respond to the allegation as follows:
Katusabe, as he has repeatedly said was indeed engaged by the UPDF Operations Commander Brig Peter Elwelu and other senior security officials in Kasese as one of the emissaries to King Mumbere to negotiate the surrender of the royal guards as had been directed by President Yoweri Museveni. He went to the palace alongside the deputy RDC Kasese, Irene Muhindo, the deputy RDC Kamwenge, Abinadab Bwambale, the spokesperson of OBR Clerence Bwambale, Charles Kibanzanga, a brother to the king and the chairperson NGO Forum Kasese district, Mbahuta Reuben. The team was provided escort by the UPDF.
The mission of the team was to urge the king to respect the presidential directive and co-operate with security to surrender the guards for demobilisation. Mbahuta's role was actually to coordinate a rehabilitation and psychosocial support programme for the guards before they could be disbanded. Security forces and other leaders were in Kasese town as early as 7:00am on Sunday, November 27, ready to receive the guards.
Indeed Katusabe kept informing the operation commanders about the progress and it was him who told the security actors that the talks had hit a snag and the king's life was in danger because the guards were charged, had all stripped naked on the advice of a witch doctor who was in the palace and they wanted to harm the king. He even advised the UPDF Commander to use all possible means to access the palace and rescue the king and the prime minister. He is even the one who guided the troops to where the king and the prime minister were because he was with them in the meeting a few minutes before. This is actually the first information that came out to the public that the operation was aimed at rescuing the King and other officials who had been held hostage by the charged guards.
Katusabe claims "the attack had nothing to do with the so-called homemade bombs or any kind of resistance from the royal guards……that there was no survivor in that palace apart from himself, the king and the prime minister.,,,that they butchered everybody in the palace for one reason; smuggling the guns into the palace. …that the royal guards pleaded for mercy. ….that there were bodies of people who had terribly been injured but they were throwing them into the fire in the burning huts…really!
This narrative clearly defeats any logic. If indeed there were no survivors, how come 149 suspects were arrested? If the commander was under instruction to "clear out everything" and ignored pleas for the surrendering guards, how come the palace is still standing todate and most property including vehicles were not destroyed?
A UPDF senior officer and a soldier were injured by a petrol bomb, hurled at them by the guards in the palace. Several other similar bombs and some of the guns that had been taken by the royal guards from the slain policemen in several places the previous day were recovered from the palace during the operation and later displayed. How then can the MP claim there were no bombs and guns at the palace? UPDF evacuated, by air, 17 injured guards to General Military Hospital, Bombo for specialised treatment. These are still there and can be accessed by any interested individual. If the troops were that inhuman and threw injured people into fire, how come some of the injured were evacuated, by air to hospital? If UPDF was indeed the devil Katusabe wants to project, we would have had more lives lost than those saved at the palace. The 46 guards who lost their lives at the palace were those who resisted arrest and attempted to engage the security forces.
UPDF has overtime promoted and protected human rights and ensures this is inculcated among its rank and file in all trainings. The UPDF and Government of Uganda are also on record for rescuing, rehabilitating and later working with formerly misguided and ideologically disoriented people, in former insurgent groups like the Lords Resistance Army, Allied Democratic Forces, Uganda Peoples' Army, Uganda Peoples Democratic Army, Uganda National Rescue Front I&II to mention but a few.
Even in the OBR itself after the July 2014 debacle, close to 500 misguided youths were pardoned and rehabilitated. The government has sent out an olive branch to whoever could have been involved in this round of violence and is in hiding due to fear of reprisals, to report to the nearest sub county or district Headquarters. UPDF and all security forces therefore target the masterminds of crime and those who mislead innocent citizens, not the misled.
We strongly urge area leaders to talk responsibly and avoid inciting violence. We also warn UPDF will not hesitate to initiate legal proceedings against any individual or group that continues peddling falsehoods and tarnishing the good image of the institution for the sake of gaining cheap political capital.
The writer is the Defence/UPDF Spokesman