KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda has charged six opposition supporters with treason, saying the suspects had been recruiting members for two previously unknown rebel groups, a senior police official said on Tuesday.
However, an official of Uganda's largest opposition party said the charges were part of continuing government efforts to criminalise the opposition.
The police's director of criminal investigations Edward Ochom said inquiries into the suspects, which started after a former rebel leader was murdered, had unearthed information linking the suspects to rebel activity.
"Our investigations show that these people were conducting recruiting for these new rebel groups and coordinating their logistics but I can't offer any more details because the matter now is before court," Ochom told Reuters.
Critics of President Yoweri Museveni's government say it has used the fight against rebels as an excuse to stifle genuine political opposition to his rule.
Over the past 23 years, Uganda has been battling another rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Anne Mugisha, deputy foreign secretary for Forum for Democratic Change, the largest opposition party, said the treason charges were "part of a continuing process to criminalise the opposition in Uganda."
The government was trying to find a way of linking former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye to rebel activity, she said.
Besigye was trounced in last February's presidential elections by the incumbent Museveni but has since led a series of demonstrations against the rising cost of living.
Ochom said the suspects, who were charged in a Kampala court on Monday, were initially arrested in connection with the murder of Colonel Edison Muzoora who deserted the army in early 2000s and joined the hitherto unknown People's Redemption Army (PRA).
PRA is said to be based in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the government once linked it to Besigye.
However, once in court the government said the suspects had been recruiting and mobilising logistics for two new rebel groups -- Uganda Peoples' Freedom Front (UPFF) and Forces of Constitutional Change in Uganda (FCCU).
"We've been conducting wide investigations on the activities of these people since the death of Muzoora," Ochom said. "For now we have sufficient evidence to charge them with treason but as more information unfolds other crimes could also emerge including the murder of Muzoora."