KAMPALA (Reuters) - A Ugandan member of parliament and a human rights campaigner on Monday accused government troops of torturing and killing civilians as part of a disarmament exercise in a remote and lawless region.
The Karamoja region is the least developed part of Uganda and is plagued by lawlessness, disease, hunger and a gun culture among tribes who steal each other’s cattle.
The area’s member of parliament, Francis Adamson Kiyonga told Reuters on Monday a special forces unit based at Tapach in Moroto district and commanded by President Yoweri Museveni’s son, Keinerugaba Muhoozi, was assigned to the area.
The troops had resorted to killing civilians and using cruel methods to force people to confess to possessing guns, he said.
“Lieutenant-Colonel Muhoozi is responsible as a commander of this notorious unit of elite forces,” Kiyonga said.
“We have testimonies of civilians who have had their eyes pricked and their bodies burnt with hot metal objects to force them to confess that they have guns when in fact they don’t.”
The allegations have been widely reported in the Ugandan media but a military spokesman denied that Muhoozi’s soldiers had committed widespread atrocities in Karamoja.
However, James Apollo, a project officer at Pokot Zonal Integrated Development Programme, a church-founded non-governmental organisation that operates in Karamoja, said there had been torture of civilians by soldiers who tried to castrate one man.
“In another incident soldiers put a panga (long-bladed knife) in fire until it was red hot and then put it on a man’s body, I have evidence on all these crimes,” Apollo said.
Military spokesman Felix Kulaigye said: “An individual or two might be involved in mistreating people. That doesn’t mean it is systematic abuse or a pattern of crimes by the army.
“In fact as I speak we have three soldiers under detention for misconduct in Karamoja.”
The opposition has accused Museveni of pushing Muhoozi through the ranks to prepare him to take over when his father president leaves office. Earlier this year, he was appointed commander of special forces in charge of protecting the president.
Government attempts to pacify the region, which have continued for years with little success, have been plagued by allegations of torture of civilians.