NOVEMBER 22, 2010: Army Harassing Us, Say Opposition

Army Harassing Us, Say Opposition

SOURCE: The Monitor

Tabu Butagira

As nomination of parliamentary candidates gets underway this week, the military is facing allegations of intimidating and sabotaging opposition candidates, particularly in Karamoja region.

Two senior army officers have been accused of sieving potential parliamentary and local government flag bearers, raising questions about the neutrality of the UPDF as required by law.

Army denies

Mr David Pulkol, the Uganda Peoples Congress party vice chairman for mobilisation, accused security officials, including Land Forces Chief of Staff Brig. Charles Angina and the UPDF 3rd Division Commander, Brig. Patrick Kankiriho, of trying to stop candidates from standing on the party ticket. The two senior officers denied the allegations in telephone interviews with this newspaper, and challenged their accusers to produce evidence to back up the claims.

Defence and Military Spokesman Felix Kulayigye said the allegations are unfounded and "usual 1980 UPC tricks" used in disputed elections that year which UPC won amidst widespread allegations of rigging and intimidation of rival candidates. "UPC is failing to attract crowds and they are holding onto the UPDF to attract sympathy," Lt. Col. Kulayigye said. "UPC isn't a threat to national security, and even if it was, we have capacity to deal with threats of any kind."

Kibanda case

Mr Pulkol, who once led ESO, the country's foreign spying agency, told this newspaper that officials, suspected to be working for the state, failed to convince Mr Joseph Elou not to stand as a UPC candidate in Kibanda constituency (Kiryandongo District). According to Mr Pulkol, Brig. Angina reportedly telephoned Mr Elou, and told him he would be appointed Resident District Commissioner if he quits the contest. He allegedly alternatively interested Mr Elou, a retired Warrant Officer II, to stand as an independent candidate.

Mr Elou has confirmed being harassed by security officials he declined to name but said his resolve to run on a UPC ticket was "unbroken". He said: "The pressure is because I have been a UPDF soldier and Kiryandongo is an NRM stronghold. Since I retired in 2007 and came here to introduce UPC, they are now worried that the NRM support will decline. They said I should spell what I need and it will be given in NRM."

Brig. Angina spoke to us on Thursday and said someone could have impersonated him to dissuade Mr Elou. "I need evidence, a video recording or pictures of the meetings I held with him. How can he prove that I was the one who made the phone call?" he said.

"That's all nonsense because I am a professional soldier who, as a senior officer, knows the rules of engagement and the requirement to be impartial." The Constitution, the UPDF Act and Election-related laws bar serving military and security officers from engaging in partisan politics.

The Supreme Court in 2006, however, ruled that the army violated this principle of neutrality and instead perpetuated violence during campaigns. In June last year, Ramathan Magara was jailed for 14 years for manslaughter after he shot at opposition FDC supporters a few days to the 2006 election, killing two. The Special Police Constable was a bodyguard to then Rubaga RDC Fred Bamwine at the time of the shooting.

As the latest allegations came to light, the former Kotido District Veterinary Officer, Mr Paul Lochap, who plans to run as an FDC parliamentary candidate, said he is being sabotaged by the UPDF 3rd Division Commander, Brig. Kankiriho, Regional Internal Security Officer Emmanuel Twagira and Mr Godfrey Musinguzi, the district internal security officer. He says the Kotido Resident District Commissioner, Mr Rex Achia, invited him for a meeting on Independence Day, only to be cajoled by Brig. Kankiriho. "He was convincing me to stand as an independent candidate. I told him that I am not a political prostitute."

Brig. Kankiriho told this newspaper that he did not attend the meeting and denied influencing the choice of local leaders in Karamoja region or elsewhere. "I just sent a message to all my field commanders (on November 18) that they should not involve in politics. How then can I get involved myself?" he said in a telephone interview.

Siege on office

On November 10, unidentified men masquerading as civil servants from Kampala, stormed the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) office in Kotido, for which Dr Lochap has been consulting since 2008, demanding to know how he was recruited. When the head of the FAO Field Office, Mr Godfrey Ochan, declined to discuss the matter, one of the men reportedly drew a pistol, causing commotion among staff.

Dr Lochap says in a dossier to his party's headquarters that the men, who he suspects to be state security operatives, later arrested Mr Loyo Aquillino, an FDC mobiliser, whom they allegedly tortured to extract confession from him that Dr Lochap is his business associate and involves in "dubious" deals. The torture allegations could not be independently verified.

Other claims

On November 9, the army wrote to the Electoral Commission, asking it to block the nomination of Pokot County MP Francis Kiyonga, claiming that he is still a serving UPDF soldier.

Col. Phinehas Katirima, the UPDF chief political commissar who wrote the letter to the EC, did not say why the army raised no objection when Mr Kiyonga stood and was elected as an independent in 2006. "I was surprised when the army irregularly gave me a service number and said I was one of them! This is witch-hunting," said Mr Kiyonga.

Official records show that Mr Kiyonga left the Internal Security Organisation in 2005 and the EC said it would not block the MP, who is seeking re-election on a UPC ticket. MP Kiyonga and Mr Pulkol, who's eyeing the Moroto Municipality seat, accuse the army of killing and torturing innocent Karimojong during the ongoing disarmament exercise.

The army denies all allegations and says it only shoots at armed warriors who refuse to voluntarily hand in their illegal arms. In an interview with this newspaper last week, Mr Pulkol accused the army of acting like a "militia" for the ruling NRM party."UPDF should save the next generation of Ugandan leaders the inconvenience of having to be disbanded for being a partisan force," he said.

Allegations abound

His comments came as one Esther, who's married to a senior UPDF officer serving in the Kakiri-based 1st Division, announced withdrawal of her UPC candidature for the Nakapiripirit District Woman parliamentary slot, citing unbearable intimidation.

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