THE death toll from a weekend of fighting in western Uganda has risen to 62 after clashes between police and a militia loyal to a tribal king, according to regional police.
An initial 55 deaths had been reported on Sunday.
“So far we managed to kill 46 of the royal guards and we also arrested 139 (guards),” regional police spokesman Mansur Suwed told the Reuters news agency.
He said the number of police killed had risen to
16 from 14 after two officers died from their wounds.
Police arrested King Charles Wesley Mumbere on Sunday and accused his supporters of trying to create a new state in the area near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mumbere has distanced himself from the cause. However, the authorities accuse his royal guards of training in the mountains beside separatist militia forces to attack government installations.
“The situation is volatile. Several of our guards have been killed after the government gave an order to disband the royal guards immediately, which is not easy,” Clarence Bwambale, Rwenzururu kingdom spokesman, told the AFP news agency from the palace where he and the king were, as heavy shooting echoed in the background.
“The king spoke to the president [Yoweri Museveni] this morning and he gave him two hours to disband the royal guards, which is impossible. Now the army and police have raided the palace and attacked the royal guards” he said, with a large explosion heard in the background.
“We have told the government the kingdom is not involved in the creation of Yiira republic, which wants to break away [from Uganda], and that the royal guards are not involved.”
Local media reported that Ugandan journalist Joy Doreen Biira, who works for neighbouring Kenya’s KTN news organisation, was arrested in the region on Sunday and that her whereabouts were unknown.
Earlier this year President Museveni ruled out any form of secession in the Rwenzori region.
He told the Daily Monitor newspaper: “I want to state categorically that Uganda will not lose even a piece of her land to the creation of the so-called Yiira republic.”
The Rwenzururu kingdom is a traditional monarchy based near the Rwenzori Mountains which straddle Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and its members are mainly the Bakonzo people – also found in both countries.
The monarchy started out as a separatist movement of the same name when the Bakonzo declared their own kingdom in 1962, Al Jazeera stated.
The move led to years of bloodshed until a settlement was reached in 1982 in which the movement laid down arms in return for a degree of local autonomy.
Museveni officially recognised the kingdom in 2009.
However, unrest has continued to simmer in the complex ethnic and political conflict, as many in the region still feel marginalised by authorities in distant Kampala.
Some in Uganda, with the support of their fellow Bakonzo in the DRC, have taken up arms and are agitating for the creation of the Yiira Republic which would cover territory in Uganda and part of North Kivu in the DRC.