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Source: Relief Web

At least 96 people have been killed in four days of clashes between tribal gunmen and Ugandan troops in the west of the country, the army said Tuesday.

“Since the operation began we have killed 75 attackers,” army spokesman Ninsiima Rwemijuma in the Rwenzori region told AFP, describing fierce battles to protect a minority tribe from coordinated raids by the dominant group in the region.

Assailants armed with machetes, spears and guns launched a series of surprise attacks Saturday and Sunday to massacre neighbouring rivals, with the army sending in extra troops to hunt down the fighters.

President Yoweri Museveni vowed in a speech Tuesday to “punish those involved” in a “criminal scheme that has caused the death of so many people.”

Five soldiers, five policemen and 11 civilians were also killed, making up a total of 96 dead in the mountainous and rural region that borders the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Fighting is ongoing, although the army says it is now only between its forces and the insurgents.

“We expect no more civilians dying because we have deployed enough forces on the ground and neutralised attacks,” Rwemijuma said.

Ugandan police say the attacks are ethnic battles, with the local majority Bakonzo people trying to kill the minority Basongora people because of “long-standing differences of culture and over land,” police spokesman Fred Enanga told AFP.

“There is a tribal conflict. Some of the Bakonzo do not want the minority groups recognised as kingdoms within what they perceive to be the larger ‘Kingdom of Rwenzori’, with Bakonzo the dominant tribe,” Enanga added.

“Had it not been timely intervention of the security forces, it could have reached an extent that the whole minority group was wiped out,” he added.

The snowcapped and remote Rwenzori mountains include Africa’s third highest peak Mount Stanley, a national park popular with tourists wanting to trek into the vast, jungle-covered range. Fighting is not in the park itself.

  • More feared dead –

Museveni said cultural groups in the region had been “actively fomenting sectarianism and tribal chauvinism — acting and talking as if the only thing that matters are certain tribes to which the respective traditional leaders belong.”

Rwemijuma fears the death toll could rise.

“The number of the attackers killed during contact with our forces or dying due to wounds may go up,” he said.

“Some may have escaped with gunshot wounds, and that is why we are engaging sniffer dogs to flush out those who may be injured and hiding, or just hiding to avoid detection.”

Security forces have arrested more than 80 suspected fighters.

Assailants, who the army has said may have numbered up to 300, “divided themselves into small groups,” attacking army barracks, police stations, a bank and the residences of government officials, Rwemijuma said.

The police said they also attacked the security forces as they were trying to stop the bloodshed.

“They had to attack us because we are part of government which recognises the rights of the minority tribes and their culture in the region, so they looked at us as their enemies,” Enanga said, adding that some of the attackers included retired members of the security forces.

Both the army and police denied the attacks were related to any rebel group, including the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group fighting the Ugandan government based in the DR Congo border region.

Last week the UN Security Council decided to slap sanctions on the ADF, which is accused of recruiting child soldiers, sexual abuse of women and children and attacks on peacekeepers in DR Congo’s eastern Kivu region, home to myriad rebel groups.

The ADF reportedly has ties to Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels, which have also carried out attacks on Ugandan soil in retaliation for Kampala’s support for an African Union force helping Somalia’s internationally backed government.

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