political foe of Uganda's 19-year leader faces death, stays in military prison
Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda for nineteen years. Last month, Dr. Kizza Besigye, once personal physician to Museveni, and Museveni's first serious political rival, returned to Uganda from exile.
At this moment, Musevini himself is in the Mediterranean island of Malta for the annual meeting of British Commonwealth nations. Acknowledging Besigye's popularity, Museveni told the press corps in Malta that popularity cannot be allowed to shield Besigye from being tried for crimes, and invited the world press to come to Uganda to observe the openness and fairness of Besigye's trial.
Friday 25 November 2005
intensifies in Uganda
by HENRY WASSWA, Associated Press
KAMPALA, Uganda -- Uganda's main opposition leader again refused to answer terrorism charges in a military court Friday as a political crisis intensified in this East African country ahead of next year's presidential election.
Kizza Besigye also refused to enter a plea Thursday when charges of terrorism, which carry the death penalty, and illegal firearms possession were filed against him in the military court, which is controlled by trusted aides to President Yoweri Museveni.
Earlier this month, civilian prosecutors accused Besigye of treason, sparking two days of protests and rioting in which at least one person was shot to death. Armed troops and police patrolled the area outside the military tribunal in armored personnel carriers Friday.
The military judge entered a not guilty plea for Besigye and 22 co-defendants and ordered Besigye held until another hearing Dec. 19. Later Friday, the civil court granted bail, but Besigye remained imprisoned.
When he returned from exile last month to run for president, Besigye was greeted by huge crowds. He has mounted the strongest challenge to Museveni's 19-year rule.
Museveni had been hailed as a reformer but his recent crackdown on Besigye has brought criticism from international allies and human rights organizations.
"Nobody is trying to stop him from (running in) elections," Museveni said Friday on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in Malta, where he has faced pressure over the Besigye case.
Museveni said the international community was unreasonably biased in favor of the Ugandan opposition. "I've begun to hear arguments that once you're in the opposition, you're above the law," he said.
Besigye's wife, Winnie Byanyima, and defense lawyers said authorities filed charges at the military tribunal because the standards on evidence and testimony are lower than in civilian courts. Byanyima further charged that the military proceedings were designed to distract her husband before the election.
"This court is irregular. With a man whom we know as a painter, a tailor and a dressmaker chairing the court, this is a kangaroo court," Byanyima said, referring to the head of the military tribunal, Gen. Elly Tumwine, who has no law qualifications and holds a degree in fine arts.
The charges against Besigye are linked to past accusations he has denied: that he led a rebel group known as the People's Redemption Army and also had links with another rebel movement, the Lord's Resistance Army.
The People's Redemption Army is described as a group of armed Ugandan dissidents based in the east of neighboring Congo. Those insurgents have never attacked Uganda's territory or interests.
The cult-like Lord's Resistance Army is notorious for kidnapping children and using them as soldiers or concubines.
In Geneva, a top United Nations official said Friday that U.N. agencies would increase efforts to protect some 2 million people who have fled their homes because of Africa's longest-running civil war.
Dennis McNamara, who heads the U.N. humanitarian office's efforts to help people displaced in their own countries, said Lord's Resistance Army fighters were committing widespread atrocities in the region.
"It's one of the least addressed and one of the biggest humanitarian crises that we have in the region," he said.
McNamara said the rebel group also had started attacking charities trying to provide relief to people living in miserable camps and charged that Uganda's government was doing too little provide protection.
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