Mysterious deaths raise fears of insecurity in Uganda

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KAMPALA: Mysterious deaths of foreigners and locals are stoking fears in Uganda about crime amid an ongoing feud among the country’s security agencies, and now the president is weighing in.

In the past month four Europeans have been found dead in the East African country. Police say a Finn and a Swede whose bodies were discovered separately in their hotel rooms in the capital might have been murdered. The third case is of a Belgian man who reportedly killed himself. In the fourth case, a German man is said to have suffered a heart attack.

And earlier this week, the body of a young local woman was found dumped along a highway, the victim of kidnappers who had chopped off two of her fingers and sent them to her family in a bid to force them to pay $1 million.

That case has shocked many in Uganda, where security is often cited as one of the strengths of longtime President Yoweri Museveni, who has relied heavily on the security forces and multiple intelligence agencies to stay in power.

Museveni on Wednesday called for the collection of the “DNA records of everybody” in a bid to stem the crime rate, and is vowing to catch the young woman’s killers.

“I will not allow anybody to interfere with the freedom of our young people,” the president said.

But critics of Museveni, a U.S. ally on regional security who took power by force in 1986, say he is no longer as firmly in charge as he once was and that criminal gangs are exploiting feuds within his security agencies over money and power.

Last month Museveni acknowledged a fight among some leaders of the security agencies and urged them to stop.

“The fighting is about money,” lawmaker Ssemujju Nganda told The Associated Press. “I was joking with a friend that I don’t know if I am going to be killed by the Internal Security Organization or the police. Criminal gangs have taken advantage of their laxity.”

Local newspapers, including the government-backed New Vision, have published reports of a tussle between the police and the Internal Security Organization, a domestic spy agency that reports to Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde, a rival of the police chief, Gen. Kale Kayihura.

In recent months, some of Kayihura’s perceived allies have been arrested and charged with crimes such as abduction, signaling the police chief is out of favoUr with the president.

“Ultimately it’s a question of governance. The lawlessness is caused and helped by poor governance,” said Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, a local human rights lawyer. “When some people are given license to terrorize others with impunity that’s because they proclaim to be protecting one person in power.”

Opposition leaders in Uganda are frequently arrested and jailed when they try to hold rallies. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s main opponent since 2001, has been arrested hundreds of times but never convicted of a crime. Some Ugandans cite these political arrests in accusing the security forces of failing to focus on solving murders and other serious crimes.

Between June and September last year at least 20 Ugandan women were killed in the area surrounding the capital, Kampala. Most of those cases have never been solved.

“This business of kidnapping and asking for money, I only used to see it in the movies,” said Dan Katumba, who operates a passenger motorcycle in Kampala. “Now it is happening here in Uganda. Can you believe it?”