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New faces of terror?

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Musa Walugembe (in black T-shirt), formerly an operative of the dreaded Rapid Response Unit, now disbanded, leads the mysterious but brutal group.

Musa Walugembe (in black T-shirt), formerly an operative of the dreaded Rapid Response Unit, now disbanded, leads the mysterious but brutal group. 

By Tabu Butagira

Posted  Sunday, January 22  2012 at  00:00

In Summary

Officers or mafias? Their manners are covert, if not unconventional or outright wayward. Many are plain-clothed and have no identification yet are armed; raising the possibility armed rogues could exploit the lacuna.

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The opposition Forum for Democratic Changer leader, Dr Kizza Besigye, on Friday drew on his medical knowledge to allege that the conduct of brawny commandos deployed in a special police van to trail and arrest him during demonstrations shows they are drug abusers.

“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that they are full-time high on marijuana,” the opposition politician told a press conference at the IPC headquarters on Katonga Road in Kampala. “I am saying this both as an experienced observer and a medical worker.”

Police Spokesman Asuman Mugenyi, however, denied the allegation, calling it a “concoction”. “He is entitled to his opinion which is a concoction,” Mr Mugenyi said. He added: “I don’t think he would have kind words for the police. Any sane person would see that the allegations he is making are lies.”

First ‘dirty’ incident
Suspicions about elements of security forces consuming banned substances first surfaced during walk-to-work demonstrations last year, after a journalist photographed a soldier charging with a gun on demonstrators while simultaneously puffing away.

If the allegations were true, it would mean the Force members are breaking the very law they are mandated to enforce. Consumption of narcotic drugs such as opium, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and Marijuana contravenes sections of the Penal Code.

Relations between police and Dr Besigye got strained after they arrested or blocked him about a dozen times since the walk-to-work protests, summoned by the opposition-leaning Activists for Change pressure group, erupted in April 2011.

The ugliest incident was his April 28 capture at Mulago Roundabout that left the opposition leader partially blind. At the commencement of the walk-to-work phase II last October, police invoked a colonial-era legislation to place him under ‘preventive house arrest’ for about 10 days, a siege Dr Besigye successfully challenged in court.

Responding to the opposition activists’ insistence that they already wrote to notify police and will go ahead with planned rallies in and around Kampala beginning Saturday, Mr Mugenyi said: “They have their constitutional right to demonstrate, and we also have a constitutional obligation to maintain law and order and protect themselves and those not interested in (A4C) activities.”

Yesterday, Dr Besigye declared the police commandos who do not wear any uniforms and brandish assault rifles akin to the Chinese-made QBZ95 5.8mm weapon as “the police bangi squad”.

“It is now clearly a police marijuana unit composed of characters you see (wearing) tight black T-shirts; they are like kanyamas (body builders) and some [strap] pistols to the leg of their trousers.”

Those in the know have identified the dreaded group’s commander as Musa Walugembe, and said he previously was an operative under Rapid Response Unit (RRU) disbanded late last year for gross human rights abuses. The commandos parked at the Ssezibwa-Katonga Road junction, keeping an eagle eye on the IPC premises.

The Friday media conference came hours after Dr Besigye, together with 11 other opposition activists; among them MPs Ibrahim Ssemujju, Wafula Oguttu and Nabilah Ssempala, and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, were arrested on Thursday afternoon and detained for between five to seven hours at Kira and Jinja Road police stations.

Detectives preferred holding assault and traffic-related charges against the group that included FDC Women’s League head, Ms Ingrid Turinawe. None of them has been arraigned in court. JEEMA President Asuman Basalirwa, who heads the rotational chair of IPC, asked policemen to stop arresting female suspects, disgracing them in the process.

Earlier, Lord Mayor Lukwago said he is emboldened by the Thursday arrest and will mobilise to make Kampala “ungovernable” for President Museveni.

tbutagira@ug.nationmedia.com