KAMPALA (Reuters) - A Ugandan court on Friday released on bail a traditional leader who was arrested and charged with treason and murder after security forces clashed with his guards in November, leaving scores dead, a judiciary spokesman said.
More than 60 people were killed after security forces stormed the palace of Charles Wesley Mumbere, tribal leader of the Bakonzo people of Uganda’s Rwenzori region, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“Mumbere has been released on bail,” judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita said.
Officials said the decision to assault the palace, which was burned down, was taken after a stand-off with Mumbere’s “royal guards” who had refused an order to disarm and surrender.
The Rwenzori region is an opposition stronghold and heavily favours Kizza Besigye, the main rival of Yoweri Museveni, the veteran president who was declared winner of Uganda’s last presidential election in Feb. 2016.
Some oppositions politicians and Museveni critics say the government is deliberately orchestrating violence in the region as retribution for shunning the ruling party.
Rights groups say Museveni, in power since 1986, is becoming more intolerant of criticism and accuse him of clamping down on opponents.
Officials have rejected revenge accusations and said Mumbere and his supporters are instead seeking to carve out a separate state in the frontier area for the Bakonzo people and their ethnic kin across the border in DRC.
Muyita said that, as part of the bail conditions, Mumbere’s movements within the country would be restricted. He was arrested with scores of his guards, who have since been charged with treason, murder and other crimes. His guards remain in detention.
Rights group Amnesty International accused security forces of carrying out extrajudicial killings during the November clashes and said many people had been summarily shot dead.
A group of Ugandan legislators have petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct an investigation into possible atrocities by security forces.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Edmund Blair