The Missing Ugandans

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[Africa News Update]

Where are all the missing people?

That is the question many families are reported to be asking in and around Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

In the weeks before the recently concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Summit, so-called “undesirables,” including street children, were rounded up and ferried to undisclosed locations.

Yet not everyone who disappeared was a street child. Adults have also gone missing and now some Ugandan leaders and relatives of the missing are raising questions. Army officials deny being responsible for any of the rounding-ups and suggest that some people who have gone missing may have been the victims of common criminals.

There was heavy display of armed forces during the Commonwealth gathering that saw dozens of world leaders come to the Ugandan capital.

Last month, before the Commonwealth gathering, Sheikh Hassan Kirya complained of disappearances. More than 20 Muslims had been arrested over a two-month period and their whereabouts were unknown, he told local media. He has opened a file for several of these individuals, including students at Makerere, the country’s leading university.

Relatives of Lillian Nantukunda, 25, and Emmanuel Arinaitwe, 23, have searched in vain for the duo who resides just outside the capital. They were last seen four days before the Commonwealth meetings.

Charity Ankunda, a relative of the two says another relative, Betty Kusasira who has a two-year old daughter, went missing early September 2007.

“We don’t know whether she is still alive, we last saw her on September 26. Since then there is no news of her whereabouts,” she said. “You can imagine the welfare of the toddler. We lost hope of finding them alive.”

She added: “The atmosphere here is not different from that of 30 years ago. You can’t look for relatives for over two months and remain with hope that she is still alive. If you go to all police stations and no sign of help, how can you expect to get access to safe houses where even the MPs are not given access?”

So-called safe houses are undisclosed residential buildings where security forces are said to detain people, some of whom are subjected to torture.

“Yes, we received complaints of the disappearances, and this week I have handled over 60 files of people reported to have disappeared,” Dorothy Amuga, officer in charge of criminal investigation at Kira Police Station, covering the jurisdiction, told this reporter in a telephone interview. She declined to list the names of people reported to have disappeared during the Commonwealth meetings: “If you want to get all the names just come here, because I can’t discuss these sensitive matter over the phone.”

These reported disappearances are said to have occurred even during the presence of hundreds of international journalists during the Commonwealth meetings, many of whom remain clueless.

The army is alleged to have been involved in some of the rounding-ups and ferrying people to undisclosed areas, but a spokesman, Maj. Felix Kulayigye denied involvement by the military. “We didn’t hold anybody in custody, most of the arrests were done by police,” he said by telephone, when asked about reported arrests, during and after the Commonwealth meetings.

He added: “The lead agents in and around the city was Police, so if there was any disappearance the police can address your question.”

He also said, “Anything about the arrests and detentions, ask the police because they were responsible of the arrests, the army didn’t carry out any arrest.”

Investigative reporter Miwambo writes for The Black Star News from London.

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