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Uganda agrees to fresh probe into 1979 Muslim massacre

17th Jan 2016
Uganda agrees to fresh probe into 1979 Muslim massacre

By Halima Athumani

 

KAMPALA, (AA): The Ugandan government has finally agreed to investigate the murders of 67 Muslims massacred 37 years ago.

“The government has set up a team to carry out a thorough verification exercise of all the claims by victims of the 1979 Muslim massacre and report back within three weeks,” Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said in a statement Saturday.

The massacre referred to took place in April 1979 after the fall of Ugandan President Idi Amin, when gunmen attacked two villages in Sheema district in western Uganda and killed 67 Muslims before dumping their bodies in River Rwizi.

Rugunda said the team led by Uganda’s solicitor general will start its work immediately.

The prime minister’s move came after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s directive this week, which said that victims’ families should be verified and compensated.

Hajji Nsereko Mutumba, spokesman of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, welcomed the move. “Innocent Muslims were murdered and others were forced to flee their rightful homes and villages,” Mutumba said.

Noting that Museveni passed the directive during his campaign trail, Mutumba said: “I hope he fulfills the pledge; we have been pushing it for a long time and no one was listening to us”.

Critics pointed out Museveni had promised to look into the matter even during his campaigning for the 2011 general election but he never brought up the issue again until now.

The massacre was allegedly orchestrated by Protestants who accused Muslims of voting for the late president Amin, who gained notoriety for killings hundreds of Ugandans.

Assailants involved in the massacre would chant: “We have finished the stem [Amin]; the branches [Muslims] are yours”.

Mutumba said that innocent Muslims paid a heavy price.

“Not all Muslims supported Idi Amin’s actions; it was wrong to punish Muslims for his crimes, we don’t see Christians being punished for atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, the Lords Resistance Army rebel leader in northern Uganda,” Mutumba said.

Umar Kassaja Mutono, a member of the Muslim survivors committee, recalled the killings. “Our people were killed using machetes; they were gathered and slaughtered like animals, including children and pregnant women whose babies were cut out of their wombs,” Mutono said.

In some cases, the hands or legs of the victims were cut off before being thrown into the river so that they would drown and die.

Also, nine mosques and 45 houses belonging to Muslims were burnt down in the attack; many Muslims were also forced to hand over huge chunks of their land to the assailants in exchange for their lives.

But why did it take the government so long time to take action over the issue, especially compensation? Mutumba said it could be because some leaders in the present government were part of the regime that orchestrated or participated in the 1979 killings.

During late President Yusuf Lule’s reign in 1979, Museveni was the then defense minister, who was sent to investigate the killings.

Later, when Museveni took over in 1986, Mutono said, seven people were arrested for being involved in the crimes; 20 people were also sent to prison, out of whom five died. “Later on, President Museveni pardoned two others who now live in the same village where they killed our people and this hurts us,” he added.

Premier Rugunda, however, assured Muslims that justice would be done. “The findings of the verification exercise will form the basis for compensation; we need to find a lasting solution to this matter,” he said.

But Kassaja, who led a team of about 400 Muslims in a protest, said: “We are glad they are handling the matter, but we shall continue camping at the Resident District Commissioners Office until the matter is solved”.

 

[Photo: Rural Mosque in Uganda. Photgrapher: Rod Waddington. Creative Commons]

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