President Yoweri Museveni has praised his guards, Special Forces Command (SFC) for ‘not being cowards’ and engaging opposition MPs and their supporters in Arua two weeks ago.
MPs Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine (Kyadondo East), Francis Zaake (Mityana municipality) and Arua MP elect Ezati Kassiano Wadri and their supporters were violently arrested by SFC on allegations that they'd pelted stones at the president's convoy in Arua.
Museveni was in Arua to campaign for the NRM candidate in the by-election eventually won by opposition leaning independent candidate Wadri.
Following the alleged stoning incident, chaos erupted leading to the shooting dead of Bobi Wine’s driver Yasin Kawuma and the brutal arrest of at least three legislators and over 33 civilians. The arrested suspects were allegedly tortured whilst in detention, triggering off almost daily countrywide protests across the country and abroad.
The government was roundly condemned within and outside the country for brutalising the suspects and protestors especially Bobi Wine and Zaake who are currently still admitted in hospital.
However while addressing the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) caucus on Monday night, Museveni praised his SFC guards, who, he said had no option but to engage the 'confrontational' MPs and their supporters as required.
“He saluted the SFC that they acted with restraint. That they are not trained to keep law and order but to fight. He told us that they really acted with restraint,” a source told The Observer on Tuesday.
Sources told us that while the president talked of instituting a board of inquiry into what led to the Arua fracas, he wondered why only two MPs (Bobi Wine and Zaake) were allegedly tortured yet over 30 people were arrested. Museveni reportedly emphasized that the SFC defended themselves as trained.
“He said his ADC informed him that Wadri’s supporters had pelted stones at one of his vehicles and broken the hind screen and after dropping him to Arua airfield, the SFC returned to engage the supporters but Kyagulanyi and Zaake beat them (SFC), forcing the soldiers to defend themselves. It was self defence until the two were subdued,” a source said.
Another source said: “the president told us that he summoned the SFC and they told him what happened that day in Arua. That they said Bobi Wine and Zaake were fighting with his commandos ‘forgetting commandos never joke around’ so they had to legally beat them up.”
Bobi Wine was initially charged with being in illegal possession of firearms and ammunition in the General Court Martial in Gulu. The charges were later dropped but the MP was subsequently arrested within about 52 seconds after being freed by the Army court. He was then charged with treason in the Magistrate's court.
Sources said Museveni however faulted the police in Mityana for shooting at and killing ‘an innocent person’.
“He said he had since established from the family of the deceased businessman [Sam Ssekiziyivu] who was killed in Mityana that he and his family were NRM. He was angry that the police killed his innocent NRM person and the police officers that killed him would face the law,” a source said.
On August 19, Ssekiziyivu, a resident of Mityana was shot dead while in a commuter taxi going to attend a local football game. That day, protests had broken out in Mityana after images of a seemingly tortured area MP Zaake were posted on social media.
At least five people have been shot dead by security personnel in an attempt to quell protests over the treatment of the suspects. Indeed, following the protests, SFC soldiers took over all key security installations and institutions including police stations.
Museveni also reportedly complained about the composition of the adhoc committee instituted by speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga to investigate the Arua chaos.
Kadaga named MPs Doreen Amule (Amolator Woman), Medard Sseggona (Busiiro East), Benard Atiku (Ayivu), Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West), Andrew Aja Baryayanga (Kabale municipality) and Jovah Kamateeka (Mitooma Woman) as members of the parliament's adhoc committee to look into the chaos that erupted.
The MPs cited severe torture and human rights violations in their yet-to-be tabled report. Committee chairperson Amule did not sign the report whose tabling has reportedly been blocked by government. Museveni reportedly queried why Sseggona was part of that committee despite being a lawyer of Bobi Wine, a suspect. Bobi Wine and the other suspects were granted bail and released this week on Monday.
“My address is known and I am a victim but the committee did not come to me. When inquiring about something, you have to look into everything, which caused it. And why would they put only two NRM members on that committee?” a source quoted Museveni to have queried.
Museveni told the caucus that NRM MPs would have a two-week retreat in Kyankwanzi next month to discuss national issues.