Masaka- Police are stuck with about 183 suspects behind the growing wave of murders and several robberies in the greater Masaka region.
Despite security agencies’ intervention to restore order in the sub-region, there are new cases of assailants rounding up villages, hacking some people and carrying out robberies every week.
According to records, 31 suspects are still in custody and their trial has failed to take off for a month due to the ongoing sit-down strike by the State prosecutors.
At the weekend, more 50 suspects were rounded up in Nyendo, a Masaka Town suburb, in connection with night attacks in the sub-region. By the end of the latest operation, the number of those arrested had risen to 183.
Mr Lameck Kigozi, the southern regional police spokesperson, says the suspects cannot be tried because of the striking prosecutors.
“We have many suspects in police custody at Masaka Central Police Station; some were arrested two months ago while others are new. We cannot grant them police bond because they may disappear given the nature of their offences,” Mr Kigozi says.
He says police have sufficient evidence against the suspects since many were found in possession of dangerous weapons, including machetes, axes, knives and clubs.
“These are not the first suspects to be arrested in connection with bijambiya [machete] attacks. During the first wave of such attacks, police arrested 89 people, but many were released as there was not enough evidence implicating them, but we have evidence against this particular group,” he says.
Mr Augustine Jjuuko, a resident of Kabulasoke Village, says the thugs raided the area at about 1am last Friday, hacked two people, beat up several others before setting a coffee store on fire.
In another case that happened recently, assailants descended on Kitenga A, Kitenga B and Mulema villages in Mukungwe Sub-county, Masaka District.
A one Peter Wasswa was killed three residents sustained severe injuries and assailants took off with Shs2.3million.
Earlier, the thugs had raided Kasebuti and Masaaba villages in Bukulula Sub-county, Kalungu District, where they raped a girl, injured five people and robbed people.
Similar attacks happened in Sembabule where five residents in Nnambiriizi Village, Mijwala Sub-county were injured.
A week prior to the incidents, the attackers had raided Kabala-Bugonzi Village in Bukulula Sub–county, Kalungu District, injured four people, robbed and vandalised a resident’s car.
These endless attacks have left many unanswered questions among the communities.
“We thought that police had defeated the assailants, but we are seeing fresh attacks,” Mr George William Kitengo, one of the victims of the recent attack in Kalungu, said, blaming officers of being reluctant in fighting crime.
However, Mr Kigozi says there is no cause for alarm.
“Our people should learn to appreciate [our work]. The said attacks are no longer frequent as they used be 10 months ago. We have done some work as far as securing villages is concerned. Let them also play their part by soliciting vital information that can help us during our investigations,” Mr Kigozi says.
According to several victims’ accounts, the attackers have common characteristics. They raid rural areas and a few trading centres. They have not yet extended their heinous acts in major towns. At times, they do not request for anything and in some cases, they ask for money.
“We think that the attackers must be collaborating with some people in the villages, who give them information that ‘so and so’ has money after selling something,” Mr Kigozi says.
However, almost every after an attack, there are some ‘suspects’ arrested, but still new attacks occur, prompting the public to think that police may not be arresting the right ones.
“If they are arresting the right people, then why do they attack again? Are those arrests for formality?” Mr Andrew Kiggwe, the secretary for defence at Kitenga A Village, asks.
The thugs also distribute anonymous leaflets, warning residents prior to the attack.
Since the new wave of attacks broke out in the sub-region, a section of residents have claimed that these may not be the usual seasonal thieves, insisting that they could be rebels trying to set base in the area, a claim police have dismissed.
Police say the attacks are engineered by thieves whose intention is to rob residents.
Several ministers, who have visited the sub-region, including the Security minister, Gen Henry Tumukunde, Hajji Abdul Nadduli (Minister without Portfolio) and Vincent Ssempijja (Minister of Agriculture), have blamed the ongoing attacks on politics.
“There could be something the government does not want to disclose. Why are all these attacks happening in Masaka and not any other sub-region?” Mr Ahmed Walakira, resident of Mukoko Village in Kalungu, he asks.
Daily Monitor has learnt that a regional security meeting in Masaka was convened recently to seek a lasting solution to the problem.
The meeting was attended by a number of top army officers led by Gen Pecos Kutesa and chaired by Mr Ssempijja.
When contacted, Mr Ssempijja confirmed the meeting, saying it was mainly convened to discuss a new wave of night attacks, which has ignited fresh fear and anxiety among communities.
“The President (Museveni) has sent army officers, who are going to work hand in hand with the local security agencies to ensure that the area is stabilised,” Mr Ssempijja said.
Lt Godfrey Sande, the Masaka Armoured Brigade spokesperson, denied army’s ‘active involvement’ in the operations to wipe out machete–wielding assailants in the area.
“Have you seen the army officers in the field as yet? Police are still in lead of the situation and we think they will solve it, but if they ask for our help, we will lend a hand,” Lt Sande said.
Mr Kigozi says the law provides for situations under which police can ask for assistance from sister security agencies.