PARLIAMENT- Government and MPs from the Rwenzori sub-region yesterday traded bitter accusations on the floor of Parliament over what each claimed triggered the latest flare-up in violence that has left at least 100 people dead.
In a chaotic afternoon session marred by verbal brawl, Gen Jeje Odongo, the Internal Affairs minister, presented a statement claiming the violence was triggered by royal guards attacks on security installations, while Kasese MPs shot back that President Museveni snubbed chances of peacefully defusing the tension.
Gen Odongo told Parliament that the latest flare-up was triggered by events that followed a security meeting on November 21 after the Rwenzururu Kingdom royal guards attacked security installations to foil pending operations to disband their camps.
But Kasese Municipality MP Robert Franco Centenary, who spoke on behalf of the Rwenzori MPs, said both Mr Museveni and Gen Katumba Wamala, the chief of Defence Forces, ignored calls by MPs from the region to nip in the bud potential flare-up just as the tensions begun to brew.
President Museveni deferred a planned meeting to discuss the situation with the Kasese District MPs early this month after Gen Katumba, the intermediary, declined to pick up calls placed to him, Mr Centenary told Parliament.
With failed attempts by the MPs to reach the President, the tension boiled over when the UPDF surrounded the Rwenzururu Kingdom administration offices and shot dead eight royal guards, according to Mr Centenary.
“I do not understand why it is impossible for the President to grant time to the MPs of Kasese District to resolve the issues but instead attack the people in a senseless and genocidal violence. The truth is that the government is not willing to engage and find a lasting solution,” Mr Centenary said.
He gave a chronology of how a delegation of five MPs from the region, including the Leader of the Opposition, Ms Winnie Kiiza, tried in vain to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal of the royal guards from the Buhikira Palace on Sunday.
Bukonjo West MP Atkins Katusabe read a text message from the army chief sent to him at 1:01pm on Sunday afternoon in which Gen Katumba was ordering that the royal guards vacate the Buhikira Palace with their hands up as a sign of surrender.
“Honourable, I have made the following instructions: That they [royal guards] should come without their daggers, knives or pangas. They should show that their hands are free of any weapons. They should not wait for darkness,” read a text message from Gen Katumba to Atkins as the MP held talks with the king.
Before the orders could be enforced, the security forces stormed the Buhikira Palace.
Busongora County South MP Jackson Mbaju, a former Attorney General in the Rwenzururu Kingdom, said the royal guards were trained by police in 2012 with the direct knowledge of Gen Kale Kaiyhura, the Inspector General of Police.
Mr Mbaju accused the government of turning around and branding the royal guards as a “militia” and “terrorists” yet they were trained by the police.
As a way forward, the Kasese MPs tabled five demands before Parliament, stating that Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, the Chief of Defence Forces, and Brig Peter Elwelu, who led the operation that stormed the palace, all step aside to allow for an inquiry into the clashes.
They also demanded that a post-mortem be conducted to establish cause of death for the victims, have the Buhikira Palace and administration buildings reconstructed and also guarantee the security of MPs from the Rwenzori sub-region.
By press time, Parliament had not resolved on anything as one MP after another condemned the killings.
While in Jinja where King Mumbere was charged with murder, MPs from Kasese District condemned the manner in which suspects in the recent clashes in the Rwenzori sub-region were transported half-naked to a detention centre at Nalufenya, Jinja District.
On Monday, several suspects from Kasese District arrived at the tightly guarded facility at about 5.00pm, with most of them sporting only underpants, tattered clothes and some barely wearing anything.
The suspects arrived when the four MPs, including the king’s brother and Agriculture minister Christopher Kibazinga, had just been cleared by police to see the king. The MPs included Robert Centenary (Kasese), William Nzoghu (Busongora), Atkins Katushabe (Bukonjo) and Francis Mwijuki (Buhweju).
Mr Nzoghu said: “What government has done is unfair. It is ridiculous to undress the suspects; they haven’t even been found guilty of the crimes [yet]. Even those who were killed in Kasese were left naked. This is something we condemn.”
Mr Centenary said the king’s condition is not good since he hadn’t eaten and had not accessed a doctor yet he is diabetic.
Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere was charged yesterday with murder and remanded to Kirinya prison.