Clashes between military forces and a tribal militia in a remote western district of Uganda have left at least 55 people dead. Police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi said on Sunday that 14 police officers and 41 militants had died in the clashes in the town of Kasese near the border with the Congo on Saturday. Earlier reports had said Ugandan troops launched a retaliatory operation, in which at least 15 rebel militias were killed, after the rebels had killed four police officers and wounded a soldier in an earlier attack.
The two days of fighting between government forces and the tribal militia indicate an escalation of tensions in a long-running dispute between Kampala and the rebels, who are believed to be loyal to a tribal king, Wesley Mumbere. Mumbere, who is king of the Bakonzo people, is opposed to Uganda’s long-time president Yoweri Museveni. Some Mumbere loyalists have voiced separatist tendencies, said government spokesman Colonel Shaban Bantariza on Sunday.
The rebels based in the western district’s Rwenzori Mountains have set up military camps, from which they are said to run a small, self-proclaimed government, even collecting taxes from the people they control. Bantariza said he had seen copies of money printed by secessionists hoping to establish a country named the Yiira Republic.
The rebels are armed with both modern weapons and improvised explosive devices, according to Bantariza. Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, lacks popularity among the Bakonzo people. In the 1990s, the region was the scene of a violent rebellion by the Allied Democratic Forces, a militant group that has now relocated to the Congo after being cracked down on in Uganda.