By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
In the last two months a number of people have been arrested by security agencies on grounds that they were plotting rebellion against President Yoweri Museveni’s government. On March 23, some 53 people were charged with treason. At the same time, there are reports of ADF rebels regrouping to launch another attack on Uganda. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to army spokesman Col. Felix Kulayigye about these matters.
What is the evidence that the Allied Democratic Force (ADF) rebels are regrouping?
Briefly, ADF is an offshoot of some extremist Islamic ideology began by Jamil Mukulu way back in 1988. They began recruiting youth and were using mosques for recruitment. We were shocked when they killed 4 policemen at Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. In 1996 we discovered there was a rebel training camp in Buseruka on shores of Lake Albert and we engaged them and when guns went silent 200 were dead. These had been lured by Jamil Mukula who had been trained by Osama bin Laden and was being financed by Sudan’s Hassan Turabi. Airports in DR Congo were being used to supply them. In October 1996 ADF attacked Kasese from Uganda-Congo border. The ADF insurgence and terrorism with bombs in Kampala increased. This alerted us of the existence of terrorism and we got prepared. Kampala survived the terror attacks in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi because of this. Later the ADF was weakened and flushed out of Uganda. In 2007 we attacked the ADF in Semliki valley where they had a training camp and killed over 80 including a commander called Isoko but Jamil Mukulu escaped.
In 2010 we began receiving reports that ADF is regrouping. In 2011 the Congolese army attacked an ADF camp and a commander called Kakande died in that exchange. In retaliation the ADF launched an offensive and overran a Congolese army base. They are in camps of Mwalika, Bucwanga, Eringeti, in eastern Congo just 30 km from the Rwenzori Mountain. They are feeding on animals in the park in Eringeti, they have cultivated food. But again they have been going back to Busoga for recruitment.
They target areas where Islam is strong. Parts of Bugiri, Iganga became fertile for ADF recruitment. Their aim is to make Uganda an Islamic state. In these recruitments they were gaining more capacity to attack.
How serious is the threat from the regrouping rebels to Uganda?
The ADF are not a threat to the government of Uganda but they are a threat to the people of Kasese and those living on the Rwenzori Mountain. For that reason government must be concerned. When they threaten the population any government has to respond.
Is this based on the history of ADF attacks?
Yes, ADF have been attacking unarmed civilians. You saw what they did to students of Kichwamba Technical College where over 80 students were burnt to death. If they can burn students to death, ADF doesn’t deserve to be spared.
Don’t you think the ADF might have changed their ideology?
They have not changed. Even when we captured some of them and their literature they have not changed. They have an Islamic indoctrination that advocates war. Teaching Islam as a religion of peace is not a problem but when you go stoning people because they have sinned that’s a problem.
You have been quoted in the media mainly the international press as saying the ADF is seriously regrouping and there is an imminent attack. Where is the evidence?
Certainly they might attack. ADF is getting stronger than they were before. If they can overrun a government defence force base as it happened with the Congolese last year that’s a force to reckon with. We have raised the matter with the Congolese government. In fact the other Sunday (March 11) the Chief of Defence Forces (Gen. Aronda Nyakairima) and chief of intelligence went to Kinshasa to awaken the Congolese authorities on the threat of ADF.
And what was the response from Kinshasa?
Well, they said they will take action.
There have been reports of people suspected to be involved in subversive activities being arrested and some 53 were charged with treason on March 23.
Their trial will start soon. It is true there are people who have been trying to recruit. Let’s not be hoodwinked; this Walk-to-Work is about regime change. People failed to have regime change during elections now they want to have it forcefully and they had hoped that the Tahrir Square or a Tunisia uprising would come. That didn’t happen. I always tell people that a country that has had a rebellion before can have a rebellion today; in the same way a country that has had a coup before can have a coup again. You saw what happened in Mali recently. If you have studied strategic studies, that is not surprising at all. These people say they are protesting economic challenges here but across the world the economies are at their lowest and some countries are worse than us here. And someone tells you they are going to riot because of economic hardships and they are bringing your business at a standstill. Does it make sense?
So are these arrests in a way connected to Walk-to-Walk?
No, the arrests are entirely different. The arrests are about recruitment into rebel activity.
Where is the evidence because some people are saying it is political intimidation?
If they want evidence wait for court because the matter is now before the judiciary. In the army there is use of the word deception; it is where you say you will do this but actually you do something else. They notify the police they are doing this when actually they are doing something different. Nobody will ever tell you I’m starting a rebellion while he is still within the country, he will leave the country and announce from abroad.
What are you reading into their strategy?
Their strategy is of course to change government but this time unconstitutionally. If you are interested in improving people’s welfare why not tell them about engaging in trade and agriculture? Instead we have seen them on the streets stoning the police and why this violence? If you have complaints there is the media, the courts, etc. When you do violence against agents of the state the aim is to provoke them to overreact to create grounds for counter violence; that’s the whole scenario.
But the demonstrators have always said it is the state security agencies that are violent to them?
If the police advise you to use a particular route and you defy them; are you not provoking them. When you challenge the state agencies you are actually challenging the state and the constitution. Let’s not be secretive about it everybody that’s in politics wants power.
Are there really new rebel groups?
Some 53 treason suspects were presented in court. As to whether a group indeed had been formed I am yet to know. We have investigators and I believe their trial is going to reveal more as the necessary evidence will be adduced. I have been reading about some group names in the newspapers.
Last year when FDC chairman in Bushenyi William Mukaira was arrested the security agencies said there was new rebel groups: Uganda Peoples’ Freedom Front and Forces of Constitutional Change. In 2009 there was Popular Patriotic Front and in 2001 there was talk of Peoples Redemption Army (PRA). Where are these groups?
But PRA was formed formally and Samson Mande and Kyakabale addressed a press conference and declared war on Uganda. But you will hear people say but PRA never attacked anywhere, if we were able to prevent them from entering Uganda is that criminal on our part? Among the people we captured in Ituri was a lawyer called Okirinyi, was he going to open a law firm in Ituri forest?
What about these other groups?
They are not here. (Col. Edison) Muzoora escaped from Ituri narrowly and he had now sneaked into the country to start a rebellion internally unfortunately when he fell sick these people decided to treat him kyenyeji and that’s how the man lost his life. And instead of people owning up; they started telling different stories like his body had been dumped at his home. That’s not true. You see government officials don’t speak a lot like the opposition. But otherwise efforts to remove this government are going on.
The opposition say government is coming up with these rebel scares to intimidate and thwart their political activities. Why do you think there is suspicion over these reports of rebel activity?
Certainly the grounds for rebel threat exist. We have been careful not to implicate political parties or their members because no political party has declared war on government. Whereas members of political parties are joining rebellion there is no political party that has so far declared war. But should we find connection with a particular politician he or she will be arrested as an individual. If you held an illegal rally that resulted in death of a police officer you should be held culpable just like if soldiers under my command misbehaved I would be held responsible.
Who is funding these people you say are organising rebellion?
I am sure they know. They have said it before follow their words or ask them. Jamil Mukulu has been fundraising from various areas and he has been appealing for funds citing Islamic cause for the ADF. Recently he was living in Nairobi when Kenyan authorities raided his residence though he escaped and we hear he is Tanzania. He holds different passports with various aliases.