Ugandan prosecutors charged a tribal king with murder Tuesday, accusing him of backing a separatist militia in his kingdom where weekend fighting between his guards and security forces left at least 87 people dead.
The Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere is accused of commanding a militia from his palace with the aim of creating an independent state straddling Uganda and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
"Court sat this afternoon. He has been charged with murder," Uganda\’s judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita told AFP, without giving further details.
Police and army officers stormed Mumbere\’s palace in the western town of Kasese on Sunday in a hail of gunfire and explosions, dragging him out and placing him under arrest after he failed to accept an ultimatum to disband his royal guards, the authorities have said.
According to police, fighting first broke out on Saturday when a joint patrol of police and troops was attacked by the royal guards and quickly spread to surrounding towns.
Kasese district police commander Sam Odong told AFP another 25 bodies had been found on Monday in towns outside Kasese, however it was not clear whether they were civilians or royal guards.
Police had earlier reported that 16 police officers and 46 guards were killed in the weekend unrest, bringing the total death toll to 87. Another 139 guards have been arrested.
Amnesty International on Monday expressed alarm at what "appears to be shocking examples of unlawful killings and a complete disregard for human rights during the arrests".
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.
President Yoweri 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 the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Uganda\’s Internal Affairs Minister General Jeje Odongo told a press conference that "claims and counter-claims over land rights between the Bakonzo and other communities is alleged to be one other cause of the conflict" in the region.
He said a wave of attacks was carried out in 2014, leaving nearly 100 people dead — mostly attackers from a group known as "Youth of the Kingdom".
"In the recent wave of violence the attackers have graduated into a militia which is trained, uniformed, armed, camped, and under a command and control structure. This new structure is composed of "KilhumiraMutima" (the stronghearted and keepers of a secret)," he said.
He said regional security authorities met on November 21 to decide to dismantle camps set up by the militia, spurring a surge of attacks on police stations and posts in the region by the fighters who retreated into the palace.
Odongo said machine guns, pistols, machetes, spears and petrol bombs had been found in the palace.
The kingdom has denied any links to the alleged militia.
"At the moment the institution is not ready to give a statement," said palace spokesman Clarence Bwambale.
"We can\’t have the figures of our people killed because we have been denied access to the palace… but definitely we lost many people."
Kasese district commissioner James Mwesigye on Tuesday offered amnesty to members of the royal guards and alleged militia who turned themselves in, saying they would "be handled as children who went astray and have returned to the fold".
"We don\’t want to see more bloodshed," said Bwambale. "Come and hand yourselves in because we want to see you alive, the heroes are those who are alive."