At least three people were on Wednesday shot dead at the burial grounds of Buganda kings in Kasubi, a Kampala suburb, as the military used force to usher President Museveni to tour the destroyed royal mausoleum.
Four other civilians injured in the shooting were admitted at Mulago Hospital, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, the army and defence spokesman, said.
“Our soldiers deployed at Kasubi came under a hail of stones thrown by some rascals,” said Lt. Col. Kulayigye, “They fired in the air in self-defence but, unfortunately, two people were hit and they died while five were injured.”
Daily Monitor, however confirmed that a third person had died in hospital as a result of bullet wounds. Five security officers and firefighters were also injured.
Government has declined to disclose the identities of the victims, saying the next of kin will have to be notified first.
The revered heritage site was gutted in a fire on Tuesday night and thousands of people came to pay their respects at the wreckage yesterday. But the majority of the kingdom loyals did not want a visit from the President with whom the kingdom has had strained relations for years.
At around 11am, hundreds of young men, angrily shouting and chanting pro-Buganda slogans, barricaded the entrances to the burial grounds with large wooden logs, a water truck and reed poles.
One of them, who only identified himself as Julius, 18, told this newspaper that he was angry with the President and would not let him in.
Tensions have risen between central government and the kingdom since last September, with bloody riots in and around Kampala after authorities blocked Kabaka Mutebi from visiting Kayunga District, which is part of his kingdom.
But the soldiers, mainly drawn from the elite Special Forces commanded by Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the President’s son, overpowered the Buganda subjects and stormed the revered premises under heavy gun fire.
Lt. Col. Kulayigye said an investigation is underway to establish if the tragic deaths, “could have been avoided”.
The Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, announced that he had appointed the deputy CID chief, Mr Moses Ssakira, to head investigations into the cause of the fire.
Mr Museveni, speaking to journalists shortly after a chaotic round-the-tomb tour, said: “I don’t know but I am a bit suspicious whether there was no deliberate act [to torch the burial place] because the people who stay here said they saw fire from behind there.”
Hampering investigations But he said investigations could be hampered by the uncontrolled entry of people to the site since the fire began.
“Unfortunately, these people have interfered with the scene of the crime; if they had not gone in, in an uncontrolled way, it would have been easier to see if somebody passed through the fence because there was a reed fence behind,” Mr Museveni said.
“But still we are going to investigate and find out whether there was any deliberate act of arson.”
Some of the agitated Buganda subjects huddled in the skeletal remains of the burnt Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, and blocked President Museveni from accessing the graves of the fallen kings.
Prince Wasswa Wassajja, trapped at the UNESCO-certified World Heritage Site during the melee, condemned the military onslaught.
“It’s a nightmare; it’s very tragic,” he said of the fire incident, adding: “It’s bad enough what has happened to our treasured historical site and it’s another thing that has happened by the forceful entrance.”
He added: “We are the people who would have welcomed our visitors... I am sure they (the government) know who has a lot of stake in this.”
Hundreds of Baganda arrived Wednesday morning to volunteer in cleaning up the damage to the royal tombs.
One man, who only identified himself as Abdul, 28, said he arrived at 6am “to clean and renovate the site”.
He said: “Before the army came, we were peaceful and working smoothly. But now the situation is terrible. There was no reason for the army to attack non-violent people with live bullets.”
Government, in a statement issued by the Uganda Media Centre, announced that windscreens of eight vehicles were shattered but no suspect had been arrested by press time.
Mr Museveni said later that he had directed central government officials “to get in touch with the kingdom officials to see how to assist them”.