Two senior Airforce officers on Sunday became the first victims of an inquiry into the August 12 military helicopters’ disaster in which seven servicemen died, being sacked by President Museveni.
The sacking of Airforce commanding officer, Lt. Gen. Jim Owoyesigire, and his Chief of Staff, Brig. Moses Rwakitarate, is the first consequence of findings of the Gen. Salim Saleh-led investigation into the multiple crashes on Mount Kenya.
President Museveni, who is also commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, is reported to have sent out a military message to all army units, directing that Lt. Gen. Owoyesigire reports to Army General Headquarters in Mbuya for redeployment, while Brig. Rwakitarate had been dismissed.
The message, according to military sources, did not elaborate what it meant in saying Brig. Rwakitarate, an officer known to enjoy previously very close links with the authorities, “is dismissed”.
The three ill-fated MI-24 attack helicopters that were bound for Mogadishu in August to be used in war against Somali insurgents crashed on Mount Kenya under unclear circumstances.
Lt. Gen. Owoyesigire has been replaced by his deputy, Brig. Sam Turyagyenda, while Brig. Rwakitarate has been replaced by Lt. Col. Charles Lutaya, who was has been promoted to full colonel.
Col. Lutaya was part of the army board of inquiry set up by President Museveni in August to investigate the cause of the crash.
Army Spokesperson Col. Felix Kulayigye confirmed the changes yesterday morning. “I believe this is in connection with the probe because we told you that when the board of inquiry finishes its work, the country would know what happened,” he said.
Col. Kulayigye said the President’s message was silent on the fate on the former Airforce Chief of staff. “I think the dismissal of Brig. Rwakitarate is in someone’s imagination. He has just been replaced,” Col. Kulayigye. “I do not have the report. It’s still with the Commander-in-Chief. But I’m sure the details will come out and the country will know whether it was administrative or pilots’ error.”
Col. Kulayigye later issued a statement in the afternoon, saying the President had transferred Gen. Owoyesigire and relieved Brig. Rwakitarate of his duties.
A week after the crash of the choppers, President questioned why the choppers flew over the very high altitude Mount Kenya region known to have treacherous weather conditions when helicopter capabilities around mountainous areas are known to be limited.