The death toll has risen to 62 from weekend clashes between security forces and royal guards in a traditional kingdom in western Uganda, police said on Monday.
The streets of the western town of Kasese were empty a day after Sunday’s violence which ended when police stormed the palace and arrested King Charles Wesley Mumbere of the Rwenzururu kingdom.
“So far (the number of) police officers confirmed dead are 16 after two who were in the hospital succumbed to their wounds. The (number of dead) royal guards are 46 since Saturday,” Ugandan police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi told AFP. The initial death toll given on Sunday was 55.
Fighting erupted on Saturday when a joint patrol of police and troops were attacked by the royal guards, police said.
The guards are believed to be part of a militia agitating for the creation of an independent republic straddling Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Another police spokesperson told local television station NTV that 139 royal guards were arrested.
Brigadier Peter Elwelu of the Ugandan army told 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.
– King in custody –
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 on charges of “complicity (with) terrorism” 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.”
– Gruesome images –
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 its 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 the government and want to create their own state known as the Yiira Republic, uniting the Bakonzo and its sister tribe, the Banande, in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
They share a common language and culture, and are believed to stem from one people known as the Ba-Yira.