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Thu Dec 08 20:09:18 CAT 2016

Death toll from Uganda clashes rises to 62

AFP | 2016-11-28 17:05:14.0
Uganda's President Museveni attends his swearing-in ceremony at the Independance grounds in Uganda's capital Kampala. File photo
Image by: EDWARD ECHWALU / REUTERS

The death toll has risen to 62 from weekend clashes in a traditional kingdom in western Uganda, which pitted security forces against royal guards accused of belonging to a separatist militia, police said Monday.

The streets of the western town of Kasese were empty a day after the fighting which ended when police stormed the palace and arrested King Charles Wesley Mumbere of the Rwenzururu kingdom.

"So far police officers confirmed (the) dead are 16 after two who were in the hospital succumbed to their wounds. The royal guards are 46 (dead) since Saturday," Ugandan police spokesman, Andrew Felix Kaweesi told AFP. The initial death toll given on Sunday was 55.

Fighting broke out on Saturday when police said they were attacked by the royal guards, who are believed to be part of a militia agitating for the creation of an independent republic straddling Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Brigadier Peter Elwelu of the Ugandan army told local television station NTV that the militia has been carrying out sporadic attacks against the government and civilians since 2014.

"We kept on watching this group, we kept on reaching out to them. Things were not working out and we had to take a decision," he said.

Elwelu added that President Yoweri Museveni had phoned the king on Sunday morning and ordered him to disband the guards.

"We gave him an hour, it elapsed. So the president again called -- gave him two more hours (saying) 'please, sort this out'," said Elwelu.

"So we had no option, after that we had to storm the palace and get these terrorists and that is what we did."

Kaweesi said the king -- who has denied any links to the separatists -- was in custody in Kampala.

A Ugandan journalist who hails from the kingdom and was reporting on the violence, Joy Doreen Biira, was held overnight after being arrested in Kasese, said human rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo.

"Police officers took Joy to the family home in Kasese while they conducted a search to look for photographs and other evidence," said Opiyo.

"Although we (human rights investigators) have been unable to determine exactly what happened yesterday, we are concerned about the excessive loss of life."

Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye shared gruesome images circulating on social media which appeared to show dozens of bodies piled up in front of the palace gates, condemning the "massacre" on Twitter.

The Rwenzururu kingdom, of the Bakonzo tribe, is a modern one.

It began as a separatist movement of the same name when the Bakonzo -- tired of being subjected to the rule of another tribe given preference under British rule -- declared their own kingdom in 1962.

The move led to years of bloodshed until a settlement was reached in 1982 in which the movement laid down arms in return for a degree of local autonomy.

Museveni officially recognised the kingdom in 2009.

However, many in the region still feel marginalised by government and want to create their own state known as the Yiira Republic, uniting the Bakonzo and their sister tribe the Banande who have the same language and culture in neighbouring DRC. Both are believed to stem from one people known as the Ba-Yira.

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